February 07, 2020

Massachusetts Lawmakers Request Information on Federal Plans to Support Mental Health Needs in Puerto Rico Following Recent Earthquakes

Only two years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has been hit by a series of severe earthquakes, which have further compounded "an existing mental health crisis"

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC -- United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA-04), William Keating (D-MA-09), Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), sent a letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) asking for information on how they plan to support the mental health needs of Puerto Rico residents in the wake of the recent earthquakes.

Puerto Rico has experienced more than 300 earthquakes strong enough to be felt since December 28, 2019, ten of which were large enough to do damage. This includes a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, that killed at least one person and damaged homes, schools, and power plants, causing 93% of the island to lose power. To date, these earthquakes are estimated to have caused $110 million in damage and affected at least 559 structures. This series of earthquakes comes only two years after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which killed nearly 3,000 people and left thousands more without power, food, and clean water for months. Since these disasters, rates of suicide, drug use, domestic violence, and other behavioral health issues have continued to increase, and the ongoing earthquakes are exacerbating Puerto Rico's underlying mental health crisis.

"Trauma from a life-altering experience like Hurricane Maria can last a lifetime, and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress can continue to surface months or years later," wrote the lawmakers. "In this context, the past month's barrage of earthquakes are not just alarming to Puerto Rico's residents; they compound an existing mental health crisis."

Because SAMHSA leads the nation's efforts to reduce the impact of mental illness, which includes coordinating with other agencies to provide services, grants, and technical assistance in areas affected by natural disasters, the lawmakers have requested responses to their questions and a briefing no later than February 26, 2020.

In January 2018, Senator Warren led the Massachusetts delegation in a letter to SAMHSA requesting information on SAMHSA's efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

As a steadfast champion for Puerto Rico, Senator Warren is fighting to address the inadequate disaster response and slow recovery efforts, and to pass legislation to forgive much of Puerto Rico's debt and to provide a pathway to comprehensive debt relief for Puerto Rico and other disaster-ravaged U.S. territories so they can recover and rebuild with dignity. For more information about her extensive work fighting for robust recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, visit www.warren.senate.gov/puertorico.