April 03, 2020

Warren, Grijalva, Velázquez, Castro Ask Trump Administration to Address Puerto Rico's Unique Vulnerability to COVID-19

Island's Physician Shortage, Lack of Federal Assistance Limit its Ability to Manage Health and Economic Crisis

"As the COVID-19 pandemic hits Puerto Rico, these economic and public health risks will grow and risk exacerbating the crisis."

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), House Natural Resources Committee Chair; Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), House Small Business Committee Chair; and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair; wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Task Force on Coronavirus, regarding the economic and public health vulnerabilities of Puerto Rico amid the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The lawmakers requested information on how the Trump administration will help the island manage the crisis.

"Because of the ongoing impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and a more recent earthquake swarm, the island was already struggling before the COVID-19 outbreak with economic uncertainty and a medical and public health infrastructure that had not yet been fully rebuilt," the lawmakers wrote in their letter. "As the COVID-19 pandemic hits Puerto Rico, these economic and public health risks will grow and risk exacerbating the crisis."

Puerto Rico is uniquely vulnerable to the economic and public health shocks associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in 2017, the Trump administration has repeatedly delayed congressionally mandated assistance to the island, with Puerto Rico receiving only approximately $1.5 billion out of nearly $20 billion in appropriated funds to date. The federal government's failure to respond adequately, coupled with Puerto Rico's over $70 billion in debt, has complicated its recovery from the 2017 hurricanes and threatens to severely limit its ability to deal with the expected economic and public health consequences of COVID-19.

In their letter, the lawmakers expressed concern about the island's ability to manage the pandemic given the island's financial situation, shortage of public health professionals, its large at-risk population, and its public health infrastructure that has yet to fully recover from natural disasters.

"While the government of Puerto Rico has taken steps to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are concerned that the Trump administration's actions to delay and impede the island's economic and health care disaster recovery will result in further grave harm to the island's residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic," the lawmakers continued.

To address their concerns, the lawmakers asked Vice President Pence to describe how the Trump administration will ensure that individuals and businesses in Puerto Rico receive the benefits and assistance they are entitled to under federal law; how it will quickly and equitably disburse aid; and how the administration will ensure that the island has the sufficient resources and personnel needed to meet the health needs related to the pandemic. The lawmakers requested a response to their inquiry by Friday, April 17, 2020.

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.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency. She recently unveiled detailed plans to increase diagnostic testing nationwide, and sounded the alarm alongside Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) over the Trump administration's failure to deliver federal support for testing and care in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, she put out a plan for getting relief directly to workers, families, and small businesses, and has fought to prioritize federal aid for keeping workers on payroll and helping hospitals, states and localities respond to the crisis -- before bailing out giant corporations.