Federal Relief for Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Fiona

Federal Relief for Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Fiona

Surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico frequently falls in the path of tropical storms. Whenever a hurricane makes landfall on the island, like Hurricane Fiona did this past month, the emergency response of the U.S. federal government has a tremendous impact on how quickly, and to what extent, Puerto Rico can recover and rebuild.

There are many ways to provide support to Puerto Rico. Currently, the Point32Health Foundation is matching donations made to IBA for Hurricane Fiona relief up to $50,000. IBA will be distributing funds raised to nonprofit organizations in Puerto Rico focused on providing direct assistance to impacted residents on the island.

On a federal scale, there have been numerous advancements of significant importance: a waiver of the Jones Act, the introduction of legislation that would improve access to aid, and the federal allocation of relief funds.

On September 28th, Secretary Mayorkas announced that the Department of Homeland Security has temporarily waived the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. This law requires that vessels transporting cargo from one U.S. port to another be U.S.-built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens. The requirements of the Jones Act often constrain the availability and accessibility of ships and the goods they carry, with disruptions particularly pronounced in the wake of natural disasters. Because of this waiver, Puerto Rico will experience some flexibility on the import and distribution of essential resources – such as food, fuel, and medication – as residents continue to recover from the storm.

Recently, U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts reintroduced the Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act. This legislation will help communities affected by major natural disasters more easily access housing assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Historically, FEMA has denied some eligible disaster survivors from aid due to their inability to present property titles, written leases or similar official documents as evidence. The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act will enable individuals impacted by natural disasters to provide alternative forms of evidence to meet eligibility requirements, as well as allow emergency funds to be utilized by residents to repair damaged homes.

In addition to these developments, President Joe Biden recently committed $60 million in relief funds to Puerto Rico and pledged to help expedite and support recovery projects through leveraging federal capabilities. In many ways, Puerto Rico is still struggling to disperse federal relief funds and undertake large projects to rebuild infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Maria five years ago, due to a lack of municipal capacity and access to the expertise needed to undertake projects of such scale. President Biden’s announcement hopefully signals that federal support will help institute permanent solutions, as opposed to short-term fixes.

Natural disasters can have widespread, catastrophic impacts. With close ties to the people and culture of Puerto Rico, IBA praises the leadership of our senators, as well as the Biden Administration, for pushing more comprehensive, effective legislation and leveraging federal resources to accelerate the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.

If you would like to contribute to on-the-ground relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona, you can make a donation here, which will be matched by the Point32Health Foundation. Money raised will be distributed by IBA to organizations dedicated to providing resources directly to residents.