The National Commission of the Federal Response to Natural Disasters in Puerto Rico Act of 2018, introduced by Representative Nydia Velazquez (H.R. 6103) and Kirsten Gillibrand (S. 3076), would establish a "9/11 style" eight member bipartisan independent commission to study the Federal government’s preparedness, response, and recovery to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The commission would spend up to a year conducting an investigation including the implications of Puerto Rico’s precarious economic situation; the Island’s telecommunications network; Federal health care funding for medical and emergency readiness; disparities in Federal responses to disasters in different geographic jurisdictions; Federal and local governments ability to mobilize emergency responses; the death count methodology and how the results impacted the recovery process, among other topics.
This important legislation has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Last August, George Washington University researchers hired by the government of Puerto Rico declared that 2,975 Americans died in Puerto Rico during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, making it one of the deadliest disaster in American history. To put in in perspective, 2,977 Americans died on 9/11.
The risk of dying in the six months following the devastating storm was highest for Puerto Ricans living in the poorest municipalities and for older males. Sixty-four Puerto Ricans died during the hurricane; the rest died due to lack of access to medical care.
While the Hurricane Maria aftermath has been well covered in the press, there has been no in-depth analysis nor oversight at the Congressional level. We need an independent, nonpartisan panel to fully investigate and bring all the facts to light. We need to know what exactly happened, who was responsible, how to correct mistakes, and how to prepare for the next disaster.
There is no excuse for Congressional inaction. When 1,883 Americans died after Hurricane Katrina both the Senate and the House held numerous hearings and produced bipartisan reports that lead to improvements in disaster response. The victims of Hurricane Maria deserve the same treatment so that the circumstances of their death will never be repeated again.