Half of Puerto Rico’s housing was built illegally. Then came Hurricane Maria.

This is what you get with poor planning, not following building codes, the government and citizens tolerating it.


Puerto Rico address issues of “informal construction” after Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria destroyed many structures in Puerto Rico, including what building officials described as “informal construction,” where building codes or permits were not followed. Pedro Portal; edited by Matias J. Ocner Miami Herald

Half of Puerto Rico’s housing was built illegally. Then came Hurricane Maria.

February 14, 2018 07:00 AM

Updated February 14, 2018 12:23 PM

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Oversight board gives Puerto Rico gov until Feb. 12 to make changes to fiscal plans

Many good ideas in the recommendations.


Oversight board gives Puerto Rico gov until Feb. 12 to make changes to fiscal plans

By on February 5, 2018

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) sent letters Monday to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requesting revisions to his administration’s proposed fiscal plans for the commonwealth, Electric Power Authority (Prepa), and Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa).

These letters, which the fiscal oversight board said served as a notice of violation for not satisfying requirements pursuant to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa), also defended the permanence of a separate and independent energy regulator.

The board also welcomed the governor’s announcement regarding the proposed privatization of Prepa. The panel is calling for a five-year plan focused “on reducing costs, improving reliability, and ensuring resiliency.” The proposed plan, the board said, “should outline the path, timeline, and parameters of the transaction.”

“PROMESA provides the Government with a powerful tool to restore economic growth and opportunity to the people of Puerto Rico,” board Chairman José Carrión wrote. “The Board urges the Government to use this tool to provide for a sustainable fiscal future for PREPA and the Island’s energy sector and to create the conditions that provide for more affordable electricity, more reliable electricity, cleaner electricity, and a more resilient power infrastructure.”

As for Prasa, the board said its plan “forecasts significantly reduced revenues post-Hurricane Maria but does not provide for a commensurate reduction in operating expenses.” It adds that the utility “must adopt a cash management program to actively minimize” its liquidity shortfall.

In asking Rosselló to modify its revised five-year fiscal plan for the commonwealth in order to certify it, the oversight board said pensions must be cut to reduce unfunded liabilities, something the governor has declined to do. The panel also criticized the proposed creation of the Office of CFO because it did not have enough teeth to ensure fiscal governance.


The commonwealth submitted the revised fiscal plan on Jan. 24 to take into account the impact of Hurricane Maria. It modifies the current 10-year fiscal plan that was certified by the board in March of last year.

The board said in a release Monday that the commonwealth’s newly revised plan includes many “important proposals needed to move Puerto Rico to fiscal sustainability and economic growth.”

However, the fiscal board requires changes and further details to the structural reforms in the areas of ease of doing business, labor, taxes, infrastructure, capital investment, human capital, and the power sector.

The board told the governor his proposed plan:

–Should reflect new information on federal disaster relief appropriations and back up general fund revenue projections on a line-by-line plan basis.

–Must include sufficient funds for capital expenditures that are necessary to maintain the assets of the commonwealth as the current plan allocates $400 million.

–Must account for the funding of an emergency reserve, noting that a $1.3 billion reserve is a reasonable amount.

–Must commit, in order to to generate growth, to improving specific World Bank Ease of Doing Business measures in the areas in which Puerto Rico most significantly trails the mainland, in particular the categories of Construction Permits, Registering Property, Paying Taxes, and Getting Electricity.

–Must include additional labor market and benefit reforms to increase participation in the formal labor market, lower the cost of hiring new employees, and drive a more flexible and competitive labor market. These reforms can include becoming an at-will employment jurisdiction to reduce the cost and risk of hiring new employees; making severance pay and a Christmas bonus optional; reducing requirements for vacation and sick leave to stateside levels or eliminating the requirements that employers must pay vacation and sick leave.

–Institute a work requirement for able-bodied adults receiving food stamps.

–Included tax policy reforms must be at least revenue neutral (relative to the baseline) and exemptions and incentives should be phased out before reducing tax rates. Tax incentives, credits and other tax-related subsidies must be shown as an expense, rather than net of revenues, requiring a comprehensive tax expenditure report.

–Needs to specifically include a plan for capital investment that is tied to the government’s broader economic strategy, including a prioritized list of investments and sustainable funding models.

–Should include strategies for youth employment.

–Must include plans for an independent energy regulator as a stand alone agency, rejecting commonwealth legislation that would consolidate the Energy Commission with other entities.

–Municipal subsidies must be cut and that any “plan to consolidate municipal services and create new structures at the regional level must be supported by sufficient detail to ensure such actions will drive operating efficiencies, cost reduction, and improve local administration and citizen outcomes.”

–Must include specific actions the government will take to ensure long-term reductions in pension liabilities.

–Must break down projected healthcare savings by initiative so the board can properly evaluate and score the proposed New Healthcare Model of the government’s health plan, Mi Salud.

–Should include greater detail on agency-level service eliminations for reduction in costs across government agencies, which relies on an assumption that savings will be driven solely by attrition as a result of the Single Employer Model and the Voluntary Transition Program (VTP). The board said it believes the proposed plan’s employee attrition-based model overstates the fiscal impact “such an approach will achieve and does not ensure the permanency of fiscal impact.”

–Must go beyond its proposal for the Office of the CFO, as it “does not sufficiently ensure an improvement in fiscal governance, accountability, and internal controls.”

–Must include a more specific analysis of the commonwealth’s 30-year debt sustainability projections.

The changes must be made by Feb. 12. The plan is slated to be certified by Feb. 23.


“It is imperative that Puerto Rico seize this moment to fundamentally reform an economy that has been in a long-term recession, even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” Carrión wrote. “Our goals of achieving balance and renewing access to the debt markets is only possible if we fundamentally change the underlying economic trends that characterized Puerto Rico’s economy prior to the hurricane.”

In a written statement following the board’s release, Christian Sobrino, the governor’s representative to the board said: “The process for drafting and certifying fiscal plans contemplated under PROMESA is an interactive one. Therefore, we will carefully review the comments of the FOMB, as well as meet any additional request for information, included in the letters.”

Read the letter on the commonwealth’s fiscal plan here.

Read the letter on Prepa’s fiscal plan here.

Read the letter on the Prasa’s fiscal plan here.

Posted in culture and cycle of dependency, economic crisis, Hurricane Maria and after effects, Puerto Rico economic crisis, Puerto Rico necessary improvements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electricity restored to 75 percent of customers in Puerto Rico, according to Utility


Electricity restored to 75 percent of customers in Puerto Rico: Utility

PHOTO: Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing hard hat, directs locals who are municipal workers, as they install a power pole in an effort to return electricity to a home, in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.Carlos Giusti/AP
Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing hard hat, directs locals who are municipal workers, Eliezer Nazario, holding rope, Tomas Martinez, right, and Angel Diaz, left, as they install a power pole in an effort to return electricity to Felipe Rodriguez’s home, four months after Hurricane Maria in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.more +

Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, the island’s electricity has been restored to 75 percent capacity, according to its utility company.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said Sunday that 75.35 percent of customers now have electricity. It added that 90.8 percent of the electrical grid, already anemic even before the Sept. 20 storm barrelled through the island, is generating power again.

Thousands of power restoration personnel made up of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), industry workers from the mainland, and the Army Corps of Engineers have made marked progress in recent weeks.

PHOTO: Retired carpenter Felipe Rodriguez, far right, uses his pickup truck to help municipal workers, who are also locals, move an electric post so they can install it near a home, in the El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.Carlos Giusti/AP
Retired carpenter Felipe Rodriguez, far right, uses his pickup truck to help municipal workers, who are also locals, move an electric post so they can install it near a home, in the El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.more +

Despite this, 65 people in shelters and an island-wide boil water advisory is still in effect even though almost 100 percent of Puerto Ricans have access to drinking water, local government records show.

PHOTO: Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing a hard hat at left, works with locals who are municipal workers, as they install a new post to return electricity to a home in the El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.Carlos Giusti/AP
Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing a hard hat at left, works with locals who are municipal workers, as they install a new post to return electricity to a home in the El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.more +

The issue of power became controversial after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello recently announced plans to privatize PREPA after it chose to allocate a $300 million power restoration contract to Whitefish, a Montana-based company with only a few staffers, rather than put it through the mutual-aid network of public utilities usually called upon to coordinate power restoration after major disasters.

PHOTO: Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing hard hat, directs locals who are municipal workers, as they install a power pole in an effort to return electricity to a home, in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.Carlos Giusti/AP
Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing hard hat, directs locals who are municipal workers, as they install a power pole in an effort to return electricity to a home, in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 31, 2018.more +

That contract was nixed and Whitefish stopped working in Puerto Rico after FEMA raised “significant concerns” over the procurement process.

ABC News’ Josh Hoyos contributed to this report

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Puerto Rico faces a surge in murders after Hurricane Maria


Puerto Rico faces a surge in murders after Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rico faces a surge in murders after Hurricane Maria
Thursday, January 11, 2018, 9:10 PM
NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Puerto Rico faces a new horror in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria as 32 people have already been killed in the first 11 days of 2018.

(Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News)

Thirty-two people have been slain in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico in the first 11 days of the new year — nearly double the number killed during the same period a year ago.

Experts say that the uptick in murders is an aftereffect of Hurricane Maria, which overwhelmed an already bankrupt Puerto Rico and fueled criminal activity.

Lawlessness reigns as police, who complain that they are owed back pay for overtime, have staged a sickout that’s taken roughly 2,000 officers off the street each day, according to the Associated Press.

Resources are scarce, and commodities including diesel generators have been stolen as tension mounts among families in towns that are still without electricity.

“You can’t deny the amount of tension you feel when you go there,” said Monica Caudillo, a postdoctoral associate at the Maryland Population Research Center.

“People are upset and if they have any sort of weapon at hand, it’s not hard to see how conflicts can get out of hand when all those factors converge,” she told the Daily News.

Police have pulled back and families living in towns that are still in the dark are governed by fear, according to Caudillo, who recently returned from Puerto Rico, where her husband’s family lives.

“The police and people in government are focused right now on solving immediate needs that emerged with the hurricane so they are not as focused on watching crime rates or fulfilling typical duties, like public security, as they would under normal circumstances.”

Criminals are encouraged by a sense of impunity, criminologists say.

“They know they won’t be prosecuted because authorities are too busy,” Caudillo said.

Edgardo Hernandez Velez, executive director of a police advocacy group, said the number of killings so far this year is striking.

“The numbers are up compared to last year because there are not enough people to be on the lookout and see what’s going on,” he said.

“Police have been working many hours and are not being paid, so there’s a lack of policemen out there that has contributed to the increase in criminality,” he continued.

He said that 32 killings were “a lot” for just 11 days.

Yet others dispute the presumed link between the killings and Hurricane Maria. Gary Gutierrez, a professor who teaches criminal justice at the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico, said the spike in killings is part of a regular cycle of criminal violence.

Some parts of Puerto Rico are still without power.

Some parts of Puerto Rico are still without power.


“We have periods that are really high in criminal violence and they always relate to other social and economic factors,” he told The News.

Gutierrez blamed the spike in crime on a government whose policies “make us feel like we don’t belong.”

He also doesn’t think that the deaths have anything to do with a diminished police presence.

Puerto Rico’s last spike in violent crime was in 2011 when 1,136 people were killed.

“During the 2011 uptick in Puerto Rico we had one of the highest numbers of police in history, so the way I see it, the police is there to deal with daily crime but criminality is something that needs to be dealt with by the social and education system,” Gutierrez said.

Some deaths have been linked to the drug trade, which Gutierrez says has been upended by the hurricane.

“It has suffered just like any business has,” he said.

Drug gangs are fighting their rivals over lost territory, according to a police officer advocate.

“There’s a war over the control for drugs,” Fernando Soler told the Associated Press.

“They are taking advantage of all the situations occurring in Puerto Rico. There’s no power and they believe there’s a lack of police officers. … Criminals are taking care of business that was pending before the hurricane,” Soler said.

Some residents, however, say that they are relatively at ease.

Michael Vicens, who recently opened a surf school in Rincon, said he wasn’t even aware of the uptick in violent crime.

He said he leaves his daughter’s bike unattended and his car unlocked, and has not been targeted.

“So far, nothing has happened,” he said.

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Puerto Ricans could ease South Dakota dairy labor shortage

Puerto Rico is a major welfare state.  For the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have been conditioned by the government to rely on welfare, why would they want to work at a job, much less one in a colder state like SD  that is very far and very different than their tropical homeland in PR?


Puerto Ricans could ease South Dakota dairy labor shortage

Puerto Ricans could ease South Dakota dairy labor shortage

Jan. 14, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Unable to find enough workers to carry out the painstaking tasks of milk production, dairy producers in South Dakota hope to tap into a different labor force: unemployed residents of Puerto Rico.

It could be a tonic both for dairy operators and Puerto Rico, where the jobless rate stands at 12 percent but workers are far freer to travel to the U.S. for jobs than immigrants due to the island’s status as a U.S. territory.

South Dakota dairy farms produced 209 million pounds of milk in 2016, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s far less than the more commonly known milk-producing states of California and Wisconsin, but the state’s pilot project to find another labor source is gaining attention.

“If this is successful, this would be a significant success for the U.S. dairy industry, certainly South Dakota’s industry,” said Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president of the National Milk Producers Federation. “So, we are watching it. We are looking at what happens.”

Certain agricultural industries are allowed to hire foreign-born workers seasonally under a visa category, but dairy farms do not qualify because they operate year-round. A study commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation released in June 2015 concluded immigrant labor accounts for 51 percent of all dairy labor in the U.S.

The proposal from a team of agriculture experts to recruit a labor force from the Caribbean island to work on South Dakota’s dairies would eliminate the need for a visa because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Experts from the South Dakota State University Extension hope to bring about 20 workers by September.

They hosted recruiting sessions in November and December in three Puerto Rican communities that are home to dairies and addressed topics such as the farm routine, weather and cost of living. Of the 28 people who attended the sessions, half had an agricultural background. Others were electricians, nurses and construction workers. More sessions are planned for May.

The team is focused on developing a program that would help the workers adjust to life in the Great Plains. Karla Hernandez, an SDSU Extension forage field specialist, said producers in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin who have hired Puerto Ricans have seen them last only short periods on the job after realizing the demands, pay and the stark differences between the two places.

“Say you have a person from Mexico who gets here, that person will stick around because he has a need to provide for himself and for his family back in Mexico. Now if you get a Puerto Rican and he doesn’t like the job, he can go home very easily because he doesn’t need to wait for any visa or passport,” Hernandez said.

It’s no secret that immigrant labor is crucial at many agricultural enterprises in the U.S. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that about 80 percent of the agricultural labor force is foreign born and over half is unauthorized to work in the U.S.

Castaneda said his organization is not speculating about what the incoming Trump administration might do in terms of immigration. But he said the group will continue to pressure Congress and the administration to approve changes that would allow immigrant dairy workers to stay in the U.S. for at least three years with the option of reapplying after a stay in their home countries.

For those who doubt the need of foreign-born workers on dairy farms, Walt Bones, part owner of the Turner County Dairy and former South Dakota secretary of agriculture, has a succinct answer: U.S.-born workers don’t want to work that hard.

“They’re not hungry enough to improve themselves that they don’t want to work that hard. I think it’s that simple,” said Bones, whose dairy farm has 1,600 cows that are milked three times a day. “It’s not easy work. It’s repetitive, but at the same time, it’s not bad work.”

Gerson Cardona, a Guatemala native, began working on a dairy farm in South Dakota 15 years ago at the age of 15 by milking and washing cows. These days, he cares for days-old calves.

“If one enjoys the job, one can persevere,” Cardona said in Spanish during a break. “If one enjoys working with the animals, then that’s what motivates one to learn more and stay in one place. This (job) is a good source to be able to do something with one’s life.”

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Puerto Rican evacuees in Central Florida fret over housing as officials point fingers


Puerto Rican evacuees in Central Florida fret over housing as officials point fingers

Two and a half months after fleeing their home in Puerto Rico, Maria Baez Claudio was told she and her 5-year-old grandson had to leave the Super 8 motel in Kissimmee because their federal housing assistance was running out.

“We have nowhere to go,” said Baez, 53, who had been living in a public-housing complex in San Juan before coming to Orlando. “We have no family here. We have no financial options to move anywhere. We are practically on the streets.”

Baez has benefited from FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance — a hotel voucher program for families displaced by Hurricane Maria — along with her grandson, Christian, who has severe brain damage that affects his abilities to speak and walk.

Although the temporary shelter program was extended until March 20 following a request from the governor of Puerto Rico, hundreds of people like Baez are falling through the cracks of an often-confusing and bureaucratic federal aid process. And with recovery efforts moving slowly on the island, evacuees are hesitant to return.

“I filled out the application, but they said that San Juan was supposedly habitable, even if San Juan is still not powered at 100 percent. It’s at about 50 percent, and the power comes and goes. And that’s one of the reasons I didn’t qualify [for the extension],” Baez said.

But on Jan. 13, the day she was supposed to be on the streets, the office of U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, stepped in and helped her successfully appeal her decision with FEMA. She was granted a TSA extension until Feb. 14.

Although FEMA extended the TSA program until March 20 for evacuees in Florida, it is not a blanket extension for all its beneficiaries. According to FEMA spokesman Daniel Llargués, the extensions are granted on a “case-by-case basis with rolling deadlines.”

In a call with Gov. Rick Scott last week, FEMA administrator Brock Long said the program would be extended for “individuals whose homes in Puerto Rico have not yet been determined by FEMA to be restored to safe and livable conditions and have power.”

As of Saturday, 4,322 families were being housed under the program in the United States — 1,794 of them in Florida, according to FEMA.

Baez, a nurse practitioner, became unemployed on the island after the few patients she tended to moved away. She is relying on food stamps to survive as she cares for Christian.

“Without giving us many options, they just gave us the American Red Cross number to check if they could help us with shelter, any place they could find, but they said everything is full,” Baez said.

Several other families at the motel also had their extensions denied. Soto successfully appealed FEMA’s decision on three other applications. He said they were all granted TSA extensions until Feb. 14.

Soto has stressed that the TSA program is just a short-term fix for a long-term housing problem in the region.

To add to the confusion, there is a different FEMA housing program that pays rent directly to displaced people for up to 18 months, but because of squabbling and miscommunication among officials, it is not yet available in Florida.

The federal Direct Lease program is “ideal relief for Central Florida,” Soto said. Soto, who stood on stage with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló at a town-hall meeting Friday in Kissimmee, has requested that FEMA extend the Direct Lease program in Florida, or a six-month extension of the TSA program.

However, as a host state, Florida cannot request the Direct Lease program for Puerto Rican evacuees. It can only be requested by Rosselló. But Rosselló has not made that request.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel on Friday, Rosselló said he wanted to make sure the aid was first available for the island before requesting the same program for the mainland.

“It was requested for Puerto Rico first, and it wasn’t given,” Rosselló argued. “It’s not in our interest to request for the Direct Lease outside and not to be approved for it. What I’ve said is, approve it for Puerto Rico first, and then we’ll approve it afterwards.”

But Llargués said the Direct Lease program had been approved for Puerto Rico since October, shortly after the hurricane, and 16 families are being sheltered on the island. Rosselló insisted the program was not active in Puerto Rico, and Soto said he was unaware that it had taken effect on the island.

Meanwhile, community organizations struggle to carry the burden, as evacuees in Central Florida go to them as a last resort.

“We’re at a loss because we don’t know what the best options for these families are, if there’s any,” said Marucci Guzmán, executive director of Latino Leadership, who said about 1,000 people have called the organization saying they would be kicked out of their hotels.

“I don’t know what happens to those families … We can do what we can in our little corner of the world, but obviously we don’t have the funds to pay for first and last months’ rent, and help people with the fee to run the credit and application fees for apartments,” Guzmán said.

“You just feel like no one cares,” she added. “It’s like a quiet void.”

bpadro@orlandosentinel.com or 407-232-0202. Follow me on Twitter @BiancaJoanie

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Another FEMA contract questioned – $156 million contract given to company with only 1 employee

Corruption or incompetence?  Either way, it doesn’t look good!


Another FEMA contract questioned

Democrats question failed $ 156 million agreement for food on the Island

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 – 10:31 AM

By José A. Delgado

When the contract was cancelled, the Tribute Contracting company had complied with the delivery of only 50,000 of the food rations. (horizontal-x3)
When the contract was cancelled, the Tribute Contracting company had complied with the delivery of only 50,000 of the food rations. (GFR Media)

Washington – Congressional Democrats want to know the details of a failed FEMA contract that they consider a scandal: $ 156 million were payed to a company that only had its owner as an employee and with a history of noncompliance with the federal government, to deliver 30 million food packs in Puerto Rico.

By then, it should have supplied up to 18.5 million of the food rations it promised to deliver. Neither did it comply with delivering them with the bags in which they are heated.

“It is difficult to understand how FEMA could believe that this small company had the capacity to fulfill this $ 156 million contract,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings (Maryland) and the US Virgin Islands delegate, Stacey Plaskett.

These federal legislators, both Democrats, sent a letter yesterday to the president of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republican Trey Gowdy (SouthCarolina), in which they request that he demands under warning of contempt the complete file about the contract with Tribute Contracting, any other proposal presented and all the information about contracts canceled or in breach.

Because of its size and the complexity of the task, there are similarities with the Whitefish scandal. Tribute Contracting not only had only one employee, its owner, but also had no experience in emergency aid projects such as the catastrophe caused in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. In addition, the U.S. Publishing Office had determined that Tribute Contracting company, which did not comply with five previous contracts, should not have new agreements with the federal government until January 2019.

The owner subcontracted two companies. One with 11 employees that is dedicated to wedding banquet services. The other is a nonprofit organization in Texas, which had served during Hurricane Harvey, according to The New York Times.

Democratic lawmakers indicated that the case of Tribute Contracting can explain the reports that even in mid-October were received saying that FEMA did not have enough food to distribute and the complaints of mayors like those in San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz , and of Ponce, María ‘Mayita’ Meléndez, on the slow federal response.

The owner of Tribute Contracting, Tiffany Brown, whose company is based in Atlanta, Georgia, told the advisors to the Democratic lawmakers that FEMA was aware that it would not be able to finance, produce and deliver the required meals in the required period.

“This is the most recent example of how Trump’s administration has repeatedly failed the people of Puerto Rico and failed to respond tothis historic disaster,” said Puerto Rican Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York).


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