House leaders announce series of disaster relief actions
By The Star Staff
Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez announced a series of legislative actions on Wednesday to deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona’s passage across the island earlier this week.
After providing aid to the 40 House districts over the previous 72 hours, Hernández Montañez called on the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and Puerto Ricans residing in the mainland United States to send aid to hurricane victims on the island.
“I want to clarify this because there has been a bit of doubt about this reality: Puerto Rico needs help,” said Hernández Montañez, who was accompanied by fellow House lawmakers Deborah Soto Arroyo and Ángel Matos García, and Capitol Superintendent César Hernández. “We were able to verify firsthand the pressing need of our citizens in communities that lost everything after the impact of Hurricane Fiona on the island.”
Hurricane Fiona swept through the southwestern part of Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon and night, causing massive devastation and leaving more than 1.1 million customers islandwide without power.
Given the emergency, the House speaker said, the lower chamber will set up a collection center that will be available starting today, to assist those affected by the storm. It will be in the drive-thru, “or servi carro,” mode, on the south side of the Capitol from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
According to the legislators, the most needed supplies are awnings, drinking water, canned food, nonperishable food, baby formula, over-the-counter medications, clothing for children and adults, bedding, battery-powered fans, flashlights, batteries, diapers for children and adults, portable stoves, bottled gas, and personal hygiene items, among other supplies.
Hernández Montañez also announced that the House would resume its legislative session Friday, to pursue the approval of an allocation of $20 million so that nonprofit organizations have the necessary resources to bring aid directly to the victims.
The legislative leader will also seek the approval of a resolution asking President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration so that the U.S. territory receives more federal resources to mitigate the emergency. A letter has already been sent to Biden by the House of Representatives for those purposes, he said.
Likewise, the House wrote to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and the Financial Oversight and Management Board asking them to instruct the Office of Management and Budget to make $1 million per municipality available for an effective emergency response.
Lawmakers also wrote to Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Director Doriel Pagán Crespo asking for electrical generators and diesel supplies to ensure there is water service for the island’s southern, central and western regions.
“This must be the number one priority,” Hernández Montañez stressed. “People do not have water, and it is essential that these generators get there to operate the pumping stations, the filtration plants, and the wastewater treatment plants.”
The House also asked Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration Director Carlos Rodríguez Mateo to mobilize his resources to help victims emotionally.
In a joint effort with the private sector, professional associations, and business groups, the legislators are planning to travel to Washington, D.C. next week to demand that Congress approve a supplementary aid package of emergency funds for Puerto Rico to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath.
“We will ask for money to mitigate the damage in flooded areas, to encourage the private sector and small businesses to continue operating, and to help workers keep their jobs,” said Hernández Montañez, who also called on Congress for assistance to address the Medicaid fiscal cliff.