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Public Employee Press

1st Anniversary of Hurricane Maria

A rocky recovery in Puerto Rico

PEP photo by Mike Lee
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido speaks at a briefing hosted by a coalition that is campaigning for more disaster relief.

Hurricane Maria has exposed Puerto Rico’s dismaying second-class status as a neglected territory of the United States.

The Trump administration has faced criticism over its slow and inadequate response to the devastation on the island compared with its hurricane assistance to the mainland states of Texas and Florida. The facts:

  • Hurricane Maria survivors received an average of $1,800 for repair assistance as of June 1. Last year, Hurricane Harvey survivors in Texas received $9,127.
  • The U.S. government earmarked $4.5 billion for contractors to help with the recoveries in Texas and Florida while it provided only $500 million for contractors in Puerto Rico.
  • Thirteen days went by before President Trump went to the island. His five-hour visit was notable for his tossing paper towels to survivors rather than personally surveying the devastation on the island.

Campaign for assistance

President Bush and President Obama visited devastated areas after Hurricane Katrina struck Texas and Hurricane Sandy hit the North East.

Hurricane Maria walloped Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. Last month, District Council 37 was among the groups in New York City that marked the one-year anniversary of the storm.

Because of the island’s fragile infrastructure Puerto Rico is especially vulnerable to the wrath of a hurricane.

Hurricane compounds economic problems

The natural disaster occurred as the island was struggling with two decades of economic stagnation, which has led 10 percent of its residents to emigrate to the United States. The hurricane caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.

Before Hurricane Maria, facing pressure from hedge funds to address its debt, the government — imposed austerity measures.

A federal oversite board is working with the island’s government to restructure its debt. The board has demanded deep cuts in government services, reductions in the pensions of public employees and changes in labor laws to encourage corporate investment.

DC 37 members help

Soon after the hurricane, six DC 37 members from the Dept. of Environmental Protection — along with several other city employees — volunteered to go the island to help with the recovery. They were among 320 union workers in the first wave of volunteers to go the island. A second group of DC 37 members — six Climbers and Pruners who work at the Dept. of Parks and Recreation — followed.

Members of Servidores Publicos Unidos Local 3234 in Puerto Rico, an affiliate of DC 37’s national union, the American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees, have played a major role in helping the island recover from the storm.