Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

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One year ago, Hurricane Maria turned Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands into a disaster zone. Millions of residents were left without power, clean water, or access to help. Hurricane Irma, which arrived soon before Maria, pummeled the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands faced a full-blown humanitarian crisis, and it happened on U.S. soil, to U.S. citizens.

Hurricane Maria destroyed more than 70,000 homes in Puerto Rico and damaged 300,000 more. In the storm's aftermath, thousands of families left the island and sought shelter on the mainland, often near relatives. Many wound up in Massachusetts, where over 300,000 people have ties to Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, the federal government's response to the disasters was appalling. Thousands of U.S. citizens died from the storm and its aftermath, due in large part to the failures of the Trump Administration. Many Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland struggled to receive housing assistance, and the Trump Administration has refused to implement a longer-term housing program to help those who were displaced.

I had been deeply involved in Puerto Rico issues long before Hurricane Maria. The island was already staggering under more than $70 billion in debt, which promised to cripple its economy and its future. Much of this debt was snapped up for pennies on the dollar by vulture funds looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the people of Puerto Rico. I worked to try to stop Wall Street from lining its pockets at Puerto Rico's expense.

But when Hurricane Maria arrived, everything became far worse. A year later, the needs of those caught in the storm's path are still daunting. Since the hurricane, I've fought hard to ensure that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have the resources they need to recover, and for strong federal oversight of recovery efforts.

With a new hurricane season underway, and with a President who doesn't seem to understand how badly the islands were hurt, it's important to continue our focus on rebuilding resilient infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands so that they can withstand and recover from another brutal storm like Maria. While conditions have improved in Puerto Rico, there are still frequent blackouts, the health care system is still reeling, and much of the housing is not yet repaired. We've still got a lot of work to do and I'll be right there with our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands every step of the way.

Below, you can read about some of the work I've done since the hurricanes, and find resources if you or your loved ones need help dealing with the aftermath of these natural disasters.

If You Need Help

 

MA 2-1-1 is designated as the intake line for evacuees and their families in Massachusetts. Upon receiving a call, 2-1-1 conducts an intake and immediate needs assessment and if the evacuee may need services or support, she or he is referred to a Family Resource Center in the region of the state in which the evacuee intends to reside. Evacuees may also call this number to inquire about their eligibility status for Temporary Shelter Assistance extensions. 

 

FEMA:  All disaster survivors must apply directly to FEMA for benefits through disaster assistance.gov or (800) 621-3362 or TTY: (800) 462-7585. FEMA will coordinate directly with the applicant to determine eligibility of the applicant/household for the various programs.

 

Family Resource Centers (FRC) provide case management support to individuals and families and help evacuees register with FEMA for disaster benefits. For a full list of Family Resource Locations in Massachusetts, visit: https://www.frcma.org/locations 

 

Career Centers assist individuals in accessing unemployment insurance, job search, and questions on finding employment in Massachusetts. For more information and to find the locations of career centers in Massachusetts, visit: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/find-a-career-center-near-you.    

 

MassHealth:  For hurricane evacuees wishing to address their healthcare issues, call 1-844-748-3928 (TTY: 1-800497-4648 for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled). 

 

If families have any additional questions or concerns, they should not hesitate to contact Senator Warren or Senator Markey's offices directly.

 

Senator Warren's Office: (413) 788-2690 or (617) 565-3170

 

Senator Markey's Office: (413) 785-4610

 

Senator Warren's Work for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Since the Hurricanes

December 6

Joined a letter from the Congressional Progressive Caucus to Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board expressing concerns about its fiscal plan, which provides for cuts to public services and generous recoveries for creditors [Letter (PDF)]  

December 6

Led three Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to request an investigation of new reports of waste and abuse by contractors in FEMA’s Tu Hogar Renace program. [Press Release]   

December 3

Joined colleagues in requesting that appropriators allocate funds for Puerto Rico’s Nutritional Assistance Program. [Letter (PDF)]

November 15

With Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), authored a letter to President Trump expressing concern about his proposal to cut relief funds for Puerto Rico, and urging him to work with Congress to ensure relief funds are not used to pay the island’s debt.  [Letter (PDF)]

November 14

Introduced a resolution congratulating the Boston Red Sox on their World Series Victory, highlighting manager Alex Cora's accomplishments as the first Puerto Rican manager to reach and to win the World Series, and for his relief work in Puerto Rico. [Press Release]

October 30

Joined Representatives Velázquez, José Serrano (D-N.Y.), and Darren Soto (D-Fla.) in questioning Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board about how its fiscal plan allows for generous debt service while requiring austerity for the island.  [Letter (PDF)].

October 3

With Senator Blumenthal, asked the Department of Homeland Security's watchdog to investigate FEMA's awarding of contacts for Puerto Rico disaster relief to companies with little or no relevant experience. [News Report]

September 25

Led seven of her Senate colleagues in reiterating a request that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hold hearings on the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. [Press Release]


September 20

Joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and colleagues in urging FEMA to continue covering the full cost of debris removal and ongoing emergency work in Puerto Rico. [Letter (PDF)]

September 18

Co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution marking one year since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Resolution]

September 18

Along with Rep. Velázquez, led a group of over 130 lawmakers in writing to President Trump to condemn his recent statements about the fatalities in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and their aftermath. [Press Release


September 14

Wrote to Education Secretary DeVos calling on her to lower administrative hurdles for institutions of higher education affected by hurricanes to receive federal aid. [Letter (PDF)

September 12

Led a group of 22 Members of Congress in questioning FEMA and HHS about the Puerto Rico death toll, including about the small fraction of applicants who had been approved for federal funeral assistance and how the government was updating its disaster preparation plans in light of this new information. [Press Release


BuzzFeed headline

August 2

Joined Senator Menendez to question FEMA about the rates at which it was denying requests for federal assistance by disaster-affected Puerto Ricans. [Letter (PDF)

July 25

Introduced the U.S. Territorial Relief Act, a bill to provide an avenue to comprehensive debt relief for Puerto Rico and other disaster-ravaged U.S. territories so they can recover and rebuild with dignity. [Press Release


cnbc headline

July 12

Joined Senator Blumenthal in a letter calling on FEMA to activate the DHAP housing program, in light of a court injunction prohibiting the end of Transitional Shelter Assistance. [Letter (PDF)]

July 10

Questioned the nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about her role in the botched federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. [Press Release


A week later, released a report on the nominee's role in Puerto Rico, among other initiatives showing her to be unqualified for the role. [Press Release]

June 28

Joined Senator Menendez and colleagues in another letter urging an extension of Transitional Shelter Assistance and activation of the DHAP housing program. [Letter (PDF)

June 28

Co-sponsored an amendment to the Farm Bill by Senator Sanders, to provide block grants to Puerto Rico.  

June 27

Co-led a letter, with Rep. Adriano Espaillat, urging an extension of Transitional Shelter Assistance and activation of the DHAP housing program. [Letter (PDF)

June 21

Along with Senator Markey, wrote to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, following up on Senator Warren’s conversations with him about housing for evacuees and refuting FEMA’s rationale for not activating the DHAP housing program. [Press Release

June 14

Introduced with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a bill to establish a “9/11-style” independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. [Press Release

June 13

Joined Massachusetts colleague Rep. Richard Neal in urging activation of the DHAP housing program. [Letter (PDF)


June 12

Led 21 Senate and House colleagues in a letter to FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services seeking information about the official accounting of fatalities due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This builds upon an initial inquiry on the subject in October. [Press Release


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June 7

Joined Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Velázquez in introducing new legislation to establish federal procedures for counting fatalities following a natural disaster. [Press Release

June 7

 Met with Puerto Rican evacuees from Massachusetts and pledged to continue fighting for a long-term housing solution. [Press Release


May 31

Introduced the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act of 2018, a bill to activate the DHAP program to provide stable housing for survivors of major hurricanes, allow survivors who lack legal documents to use alternative proof to receive disaster assistance, and allow survivors to use disaster assistance to obtain title to their land. [Press Release]


Authored an op-ed column with Senator Markey in the Springfield Republican, calling for immediate activation of DHAP. [Op-Ed

May 23

Joined colleagues on a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the planned appropriations process to distribute disaster aid funding to colleges impacted by the hurricanes and natural disasters. [Letter (PDF)

May 17

Co-sponsored a bill from Senator Bill Nelson to require FEMA to implement the DHAP housing program for evacuees. [Press Release

May 16

Along with Senator Markey, criticized FEMA’s decision not to stand up the DHAP longer-term housing program for evacuees. [News Article

May 16

With Rep. Velázquez, followed up on the February 8 letter regarding the proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics. [Letter (PDF)] 

May 2

Alongside Rep. Velázquez, urged the Federal Communications Commission not to reduce the reach of its Lifeline program – which makes communication more affordable for low-income consumers in Puerto Rico. [Letter (PDF)

May 1

Urged President Trump to hire a Homeland Security Advisor who recognizes climate change as a national security threat. [Press Release

April 20

Led a group of senators in urging FEMA to exercise its discretion and implement a longer-term housing program for evacuees, called DHAP. [Press Release

April 19

With Senator Markey, again urged an extension of Transitional Shelter Assistance for those displaced by the hurricane. [Letter (PDF)


Following this and others' requests, FEMA granted a temporary extension of TSA. [News Report]

April 5

Joined Congressman Jose Serrano and colleagues in urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to ease the extremely burdensome process for hurricane-affected colleges and universities to receive federal disaster aid. [Press Release

March 23

Joined colleagues in urging the Puerto Rican government and the Oversight Board not to privatize Puerto Rico's prisons. [Letter (PDF)

March 22

Co-sponsored a resolution by Senator Bob Menendez expressing concern about Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria and insisting that the federal government must do more for the island. [Resolution

March 22

Led her colleagues in writing to the Internal Revenue Service asking the IRS whether its private debt collectors acted legally in dealing with taxpayers impacted by federally declared disasters. [Press Release

March 20

Authored a Medium post, in English and Spanish, to mark six months since Hurricane Maria hit, and providing updates on the recovery efforts and her work for the island. [Medium Post; En Español]

March 16

Joined colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on the island of Vieques. [Letter (PDF)

March 14

Led a group of five senators requesting an update from FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on efforts to restore the island’s electric grid. [Press Release

March 8

Called on the Treasury Department to provide to Puerto Rico the full Community Disaster Loan appropriated by Congress, and to offer terms that will promote the island's recovery. [Letter (PDF)

March 6

Led a group of three senators in requesting information on FEMA's plans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season following the catastrophes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Press Release

March 1

Spoke at an event sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Hispanic Federation, opposing education cuts in Puerto Rico. [Video]  


February 16

 Reminded Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board that federal relief funds for Puerto Rico are intended for disaster relief and rebuilding, not for paying creditors. [Letter (PDF)

February 14

With Senator Richard Blumenthal, called on the Department of Justice to investigate the contracting process for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. [Letter (PDF)

February 12

With Senator Markey, urged FEMA to extend Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA)housing assistance for those displaced by disaster. Many Puerto Ricans required TSA in Massachusetts and other states because their homes were damaged by the hurricane. [Letter (PDF)


Following this and others' requests, FEMA granted a temporary extension of TSA. [News Report]

February 8

 Requested information on the reorganization and privatization of the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, an important reliable body that governs statistical policy in the territory. [Letter (PDF)]

February 7

Led a group of seven senators in requesting an investigation of FEMA’s $156 million contract with a company that failed to provide self-heating meals as promised. [Letter (PDF)] 

February 7

Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria. [Press Release]

January 19

Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request 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. [Press Release

January 12

Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation on a trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts. [Press Release


December 21

With Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), led a group of nine senators on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in a bipartisan letter to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), requesting that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. [Press Release] 


A month later, 186 organizations sent a letter echoing this request. [Letter (PDF)]

December 6

Joined colleagues in calling for more Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Press Release

December 5

Called for an investigation of FEMA’s decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. [Press Release


As a result of this call, the Department of Homeland Security's watchdog said it will investigate. [News Report

December 4

Joined Senator Menendez in expressing concern about the small amount of disaster relief that the Trump Administration requested for disaster-ravaged parts of the United States, and asking appropriators for more aid for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Letter (PDF)]

November 28

Worked with Senator Bernie Sanders to author 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. [Press Release]


November 16

Led five Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department's efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort the military hospital ship in the Department's Puerto Rico response efforts. [Press Release

November 15

With Rep. Nydia Velázquez, asked Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board to request a complete discharge of Puerto Rico’s debt. [Press Release]

November 14

Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. [Press Release

November 7

Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Press Release]


November 3

Joined colleagues in writing to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country. [Press Release]

October 26

Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Press Release]

October 25

Co-led a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site. [Press Release]

October 25

Joined Senator Ed Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes. [Press Release]

October 20

Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. [Press Release]

October 19

Led a group of 13 senators in demanding that the federal government take steps to ensure that the official fatality count in Puerto Rico was accurate. The death toll at the time was just 48, though numerous reports indicated that actually far more people had died. [Press Release]




October 18

Called for disaster assistance and debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march. [Video]


WaPo PR headline



October 6

Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground. [Press Release]

October 3

Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra. [Press Release]

October 2

Went to FEMA Headquarters for a briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and pressed officials on evidence that the federal response was woefully inadequate. [Facebook Post]


FEMA briefing



September 29

Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster. [Press Release]

September 29

Held community meetings in Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts, to discuss the crises on the islands, and to hear from constituents worried about those affected by the hurricanes. [Facebook Post]



September 28

Held a conference call with local elected officials and activists in Massachusetts with ties to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

September 27

Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Press Release]

September 26

Wrote to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands. [Press Release]

September 22

Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses. [Press Release]