January 15, 2020

Udall Joins Senate Democrats to Support Disaster Recovery Funds for Puerto Rico Following Devastating Earthquakes

WASHINGTON U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined 33 Senate Democrats in a letter to President Trump requesting the administration issue a major disaster declaration in Puerto Rico after the island suffered widespread damage from a 6.4-magnitude earthquake on January 7. The senators’ request carries particular urgency given the Trump administration’s failure to release $8.3 billion in congressionally-appropriated disaster recovery funds following the devastation the island suffered after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

“We write in strong support of Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration for the widespread damage caused by the powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake on January 7, and the hundreds of preceding and subsequent aftershocks which struck the island starting late on December 28,” the senators wrote. “More than two days after the 6.4-magnitude event, more than one million of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico were still without power. Eight landslides had been recorded, over 2,000 individuals were in shelters including 125 minors, and the island’s communication’s grid was only 75 percent operational. Many schools have been closed indefinitely and will only be reopened upon inspection. The earthquake tragically claimed the life of a 73-year-old man in the southern city of Ponce and many more were injured. The Costa Sur power generation plant – the largest on Puerto Rico’s grid – sustained damage so severe that the Island will need 500 megawatts of emergency generation for the rest of the year. Clearly, the situation in Puerto Rico is dire.”

“Reflecting the island-wide damage from these earthquakes, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced has requested that you declare a major disaster in Puerto Rico on January 11, 2020,” the senators continued. “These earthquakes make it even more unconscionable the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) inaction in disbursing the $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding appropriated by the United States Congress for mitigation projects in Puerto Rico.”

There is no substantive reason to withhold this congressionally-mandated disaster aid for our fellow Americans on the island, and indeed failure to disburse these funds has a damaging material impact on Puerto Rico and its residents,” the senators concluded. “The bottom line is that this money must be made available to Puerto Rico now and failure to do so is in violation of Congress’ explicit intent.”

Udall was joined on the letter by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The full text of Senate Democrat’s letter to President Trump can be found here and below:

Dear President Trump: 

We write in strong support of Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration for the widespread damage caused by the powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake on January 7, and the hundreds of preceding and subsequent aftershocks which struck the island starting late on December 28. Enclosed is a copy of the governor’s request. 

More than two days after the 6.4-magnitude event, more than one million of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico were still without power. Eight landslides had been recorded, over 2,000 individuals were in shelters including 125 minors, and the island’s communication’s grid was only 75 percent operational. Many schools have been closed indefinitely and will only be reopened upon inspection. The earthquake tragically claimed the life of a 73-year-old man in the southern city of Ponce and many more were injured. The Costa Sur power generation plant – the largest on Puerto Rico’s grid – sustained damage so severe that the Island will need 500 megawatts of emergency generation for the rest of the year. Clearly, the situation in Puerto Rico is dire. 

Reflecting the island-wide damage from these earthquakes, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced has requested that you declare a major disaster in Puerto Rico on January 11, 2020, pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288).  Specifically, the governor has requested Individual Assistance for the municipalities of Guanica, Guayanilla, Penuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco; Public Assistance, including direct Federal assistance for the municipalities of Guanica, Guayanilla, Penuelas, Ponce, San German, and Yauco; and Hazard Mitigation for the entire commonwealth.

These earthquakes make it even more unconscionable the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) inaction in disbursing the $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding appropriated by the United States Congress for mitigation projects in Puerto Rico. There is no substantive reason to withhold this congressionally-mandated disaster aid for our fellow Americans on the island, and indeed failure to disburse these funds has a damaging material impact on Puerto Rico and its residents. The bottom line is that this money must be made available to Puerto Rico now and failure to do so is in violation of Congress’ explicit intent.

We appreciate your swift attention and consideration of this request and stand ready to work with your administration and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to deliver support and resources to the impacted communities.

Sincerely,