October 17, 2022

Following Hurricane Fiona, Warren Joins Lawmakers to Urge the Biden Administration to Increase Staff and Review All Resources in Spanish as Puerto Rico Recovers

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington D.C.  – As Puerto Rico rebuilds and recovers from the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona last month, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in a bicameral effort urging President Biden to instruct federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure all applications for assistance and resources are correctly translated in Spanish, and to make available adequate Spanish-speaking employees. 

“The United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that found language access was a significant issue in accessing federal assistance for survivors of both Hurricanes Maria and Harvey,” the lawmakers wrote. “In Puerto Rico, FEMA did not have enough Spanish-speaking employees to accommodate the Island, leading to delays in aid. The Commission also received testimony that even after documents had been translated into Spanish, they were often inaccurate and confusing. While some improvements have been made on this issue, we urge your administration to review all Spanish documents and resources for accuracy, especially in light of the recent hurricanes.”

The lawmakers are also urging the Biden Administration to establish additional Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) on the island to ensure equitable access to federal resources and services. 

“DRCs are critical in helping survivors access disaster assistance programs, understand written correspondence, and learn of federal grant opportunities to make their homes more resilient,” the lawmakers continued. “Many residents currently do not have electricity to have an internet connection. Others may lack the computer technology to access the internet. Furthermore, almost a quarter of the Puerto Rican population is over the age of 65, and may have limited, if any, computer literacy. With internet accessibility being a potential issue, establishing more DRCs will help ensure a more equitable recovery of the island. We also ask you prioritize increasing fluent Spanish-speaking staff to provide residents with comprehensive and timely assistance.”

The letter was also joined by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Representatives Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz).

Senator Warren has been a steadfast and consistent advocate for the people of Puerto Rico following natural disasters: 

  1. On September 28, 2022, Senator Warren led a bicameral letter to Congressional leadership requesting emergency funding for Puerto Rico, with a focus on Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, to ensure that those impacted by the hurricane will have access to the health coverage they need.
  2. Last month, Senator Warren and Representative Espaillat reintroduced the Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act (S. 5035), legislation that would help communities affected by major natural disasters access housing assistance. They also sent a letter to FEMA and HUD requesting an update on their plans to implement the Disaster Assistance and Supportive Housing program.
  3. On September 21, 2022, Senator Warren led a letter to President Biden asking for the federal government to cover the full cost of FEMA aid to Puerto Rico. President Biden heeded this request.
  4. On September 20, 2022, Senator Warren joined a letter with Senator Menendez to President Biden supporting issuing a Major Disaster Declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. President Biden also heeded this request.
  5. Also last month, Senator Warren and joined Senator Gillibrand to urge congressional leadership to provide emergency supplemental funding for disaster recovery and relief support as well as $1 billion in nutritional aid for Puerto Rico, and cosponsored the Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Fairness Act (S. 4967).
  6. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Senator Warren and Senator Sanders authored a “Marshall Plan” for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This comprehensive legislation would address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.