October 18, 2022

ICYMI: Warren joins Schumer, Velázquez to Call on Biden Administration to Establish a Puerto Rico Recovery Task Force

Text of Letter (PDF)


Washington, D.C.– U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in a bicameral letter calling on the Biden Administration to establish a Recovery Task Force for Puerto Rico modeled after the successful Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force created by the Obama Administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. 


The Puerto Rico Recovery Task Force’s goal would be to provide a roadmap for the island’s long-term recovery and ensure greater interagency cooperation. Five years after Hurricane Maria and as the island continues to deal with the devastating impacts of Hurricane Fiona, the Senators and Representatives are also urging the Biden Administration to continue to expeditiously send resources and increase coordination to ensure Puerto Rico’s swift, equitable, and full recovery.


“In this stage of the recovery, federal efforts must focus on addressing coordination challenges and facilitating the effective disbursement of funds rather than creating additional obstacles,” wrote the lawmakers. “To that end, we request the creation of a Recovery Task Force and at minimum the coordination of all relevant federal agencies as well as engagement with a broad coalition of local stakeholders in planning the recovery—including Puerto Rico’s central government, municipalities, non-profits, academic, and the private and civic sectors.”


Since 2017,  Congress has allocated billions of dollars for the island’s recovery from hurricanes, but persistent bottlenecks have complicated the disbursement of federal disaster funding. Many of the delays can be attributed to the Trump Administration’s inaction and delay in releasing recovery funding. According to the Center for a New Economy, a think tank, the post-Maria recovery has suffered from a systemic lack of coordination: among federal agencies, between federal agencies and their local counterparts, and between federal and state agencies on one side and municipalities on the other. 


The Fiscal Oversight and Management Board’s ongoing austerity policies have also hobbled the ability of local governments to respond to crises and prepare for future climate impacts. While the Biden Administration has taken steps to remove unnecessary barriers to federal disaster funding and taken actions to advance the recovery and rebuilding effort, Senator Warren and other congressional leaders believe a Recovery Task Force is still needed to provide a long-term outlook that will support Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable populations.


“After five years of bottlenecks, the Biden Administration must continue to act with urgency to establish the necessary mechanisms for a comprehensive, effective, and forward-looking recovery for Puerto Rico. We believe an increased interagency coordination and oversight are crucial first steps for ensuring a better, more resilient future for the island and we look forward to working together with your Administration,” concluded the lawmakers.


Along with Senator Warren, Leader Schumer, and Representative Velázquez, the letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Darren E. Soto (D-Fla.), and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).


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


·         On October 17, 2022, 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.

·         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.

·         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.

·         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.

·         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.

·         Also last month, Senator Warren 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).

·         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.