The U.S. Betrayal of Puerto Rico by the Numbers

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To watch the U.S. government’s varying responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria last year was to compare in real time its separate and unequal view of people in Texas and Puerto Rico. While Texan members of Congress successfully fought for emergency aid in the weeks following the storm, those in San Juan got a slow-moving commander-in-chief who quarreled with local politicians and lobbed paper towels at survivors as if he were launching T-shirts into a cheering crowd at a sports arena.

Even months after the storm, many Puerto Ricans are without power and other basics. And a new report in Politico today compares how the first days of the Trump administration’s responses to the two storms have set Texas and Puerto Rico on vastly divergent paths to recovery.

From Politico (emphasis mine):

Within six days of Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command had deployed 73 helicopters over Houston, which are critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies. It took at least three weeks after Maria before it had more than 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico.

Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, versus just $6.2 million for Maria victims.

During the first nine days after Harvey, FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.

Nine days after Harvey, the federal government had 30,000 personnel in the Houston region, compared with 10,000 at the same point after Maria.

It took just 10 days for FEMA to approve permanent disaster work for Texas, compared with 43 days for Puerto Rico.

Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had approved 39 percent of federal applications for relief from victims of Harvey, versus 28 percent for Maria.


Trump administration officials at FEMA and elsewhere gave Politico a few explanations for this. Namely: Maria was a more severe storm, and existing infrastructure problems on Puerto Rico made transportation and communication more difficult amid devastation. They even cautioned comparing the responses at all—shocker!—given underlying differences in local politics and development.

But even more damningly, the federal spigot for permanent infrastructure repairs has yet to even open in Puerto Rico. That’s largely because local officials felt pressured to accept an untested funding formula for relief aid that puts their cash-strapped island on the hook for any costs that overrun its estimates. That’s not the case in Texas. And what’s more, Puerto Rico still faces a crushing level of debt that the federal government refuses to cancel.

“There is no doubt that Puerto Rico gets treated differently to a state,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló told Politico in an interview. “And there is no doubt that it has been true for the disaster response as well.”

Read the full Politico report here.

I write about media for Splinter. I have redeeming qualities, too.

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