New York Expands Relief Efforts for Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria
September 26, 2017
As published by The New York Times, on September 24, 2017.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a statewide partnership on Sunday to provide aid to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as he called on the federal government to step up efforts to help its Caribbean territories.
During a speech at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan that at times felt like a pep rally, Mr. Cuomo said he created the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico to provide necessary goods, services and money to relief organizations serving its 3.5 million residents.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, knocking out the island’s entire power grid and killing at least 10 people. The storm, one of the strongest ever to hit the island, came on the heels of Hurricane Irma, and the devastation was compounded by the territory’s worsening fiscal crisis.
“From New York and from the federal government, we have to deliver the help, and that’s what our cause and out mission is,” said Mr. Cuomo, who visited the island last week.
To Puerto Rico, Mr. Cuomo pledged, “It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but New York is going to walk that road with you every step of the way.”
Nearly 1.2 million Puerto Ricans live in New York State, including about 700,000 in New York City. Many are still trying to reach loved ones since the storms, which officials say wrought more than $10 billion in damage.
The state effort includes a relief fund coordinated with the Partnership for New York City, a business group, to solicit donations greater than $10,000 from businesses. School supplies, medical supplies and more will be collected across the state, including the Javitz Center and at Mets games. The attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, will monitor the efforts to make sure rules for collecting and distributing donations are followed.
The governor traveled to Puerto Rico on Friday with Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat born in Yabucoa, in the southeastern part of the island, on a plane donated by JetBlue. The airline, based in Long Island City, has committed $1 million to transport donations such as drinking water, meals and generators.
In his speech, the governor alluded to President Trump’s fight with athletes protesting police brutality and House Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare as less pressing than the needs of millions of Americans dealing with the storm’s aftermath.
“To our colleagues in federal government, I humbly suggest that at this time, instead of arguing with football players, instead of obsessing how to take health care from the poor in this country, why don’t we put the politics aside and focus on helping Americans?” he said.
When the governor finished speaking, chants of “Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!” erupted from the crowd. A few people waved Puerto Rican and American flags.
Jennifer Lopez, the Puerto Rican pop star from the Bronx, is one of several co-chairpersons soliciting donations. Ms. Lopez, who is contributing $1 million, said the response had been overwhelming and included significant contributions from Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
“Nobody said no,” she said. “Anybody we’ve called is right there asking what they can do.”
Representative Velazquez reiterated her plans to request federal waivers that would allow aid to flow more quickly to the island. Federal laws require 25 percent of relief assistance to come from the affected state, and outside cargo aid must travel on American shipping vessels.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Thursday that the city was sending more than three dozen additional emergency workers to the island, where nine Police Department and Fire Department workers were dispatched following Hurricane Irma. A team of eight to 10 emergency managers were sent to work with officials in San Juan, the capital.
In addition, the city is collecting contributions on its website and asked residents to donate critically needed items, such as diapers, baby food, batteries and first aid supplies.
The mayor also asked city employees to volunteer to participate in relief efforts.