New Study Reports Puerto Rico Disaster Aid Inequality

A new research report from the University of Michigan has an answer for the question many people have been asking: did Puerto Rico get equal treatment from the federal government in the 2017 hurricanes?

“What we found is that there was a very significant difference in not only the timing of the responses but also in the volume of resources distributed in terms of money and staffing,” said Charley Willison, the lead author on the new study.

The differences were striking:

  • Nine days after the hurricanes, survivors of Harvey and Irma had received almost $100 million in aid, while Maria’s survivors received just over $6 million n the same time frame.
  • At the peak of early response, Texas had 31,000 federal responders and Florida had 40,000, while Puerto Rico had 19,000.
  • Texas and Florida had about the same level of federal response in two months, while Puerto Rico did not reach that level of response for four months.

Scott Greer, a professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan, pointed out that the lack of emergency response was  “a likely contributor to thousands of avoidable deaths.” He went on to say that it was also “a reminder of the penalties of not being fully represented in federal politics. Democracy is a public health policy.”

Puerto Rico is not fully represented in federal politics because, as a territory, it has no senators and just one non-voting representative in the House. As a state, Puerto Rico will have about seven representatives, each of whom will have the opportunity to speak up and to vote on policies affecting the Island.

Congress is also legally allowed to treat Puerto Rico differently from states. Under the Territorial Clause, Congress makes all “rules and regulations” for Puerto Rico. All 50 states are legally equal, but Puerto Rico is not equal with the states under law.

Puerto Rico should be a state. Tell your legislators that it’s time.

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