Outcry Over Mistaken FEMA Announcement Shows Many Puerto Ricans Are Still in Need
FEMA clarifies rumors of agency leaving Puerto Rico four months after Hurricane Maria struck the island.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was in hot water this week after agency officials mistakenly told NPR on Jan. 28 that they will “officially shut off” their distribution to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, merely four months after Hurricane Maria struck.
Puerto Rican officials and people on social media expressed their anger over the announcement with one U.S. congressional candidate writing, “A third of Puerto Rico still lacks electricity. Many do not have running water. But FEMA will ‘officially shut off’ tomorrow. THIS is the STATE OF THE UNION #SOTU—the startling, unimaginable reality here for millions of Americans over 4 months after Maria.” A petition against FEMA also went live, quickly garnering over 74,000 signatures.
William Booher, an agency spokesman had to shut down the reports telling The New York Times on Jan. 31, “This aid is not stopping. There was no, and is no, current plan to stop providing these commodities, as long as there continues to be an identified need for them.”
This clarification comes after an agency director said that FEMA would be turning over the remaining supplies to the Puerto Rican government for distribution. “The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal,” said Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA’s director in Puerto Rico, in an NPR interview. “If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy. It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we’re providing to families and the municipalities, they’re able to go back to the normal economy.”
Booher explained that the agency would simply be evaluating the status of the needs on the island and that ending aid for the U.S. territory would require giving notice to the Puerto Rican government. And although Booher says that aid is “less necessary,” Puerto Rican politicians would disagree. “There is need still,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told the media at Tuesday’s State of the Union as a guest of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
After the clarification was made by Booher on Wednesday, FEMA also tweeted to address the outcry, writing, “We will continue our support to #PuertoRico from response to recovery. We have millions of liters of food / water stored in warehouses across the island, which we are continuing to provide to voluntary organizations / local officials who need them in their communities.”