Legal organizations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, working with investigative journalists in Puerto Rico, filed multiple Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking detailed information concerning the Trump Administration’s inadequate, and often incomprehensible, efforts to provide emergency relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, through its disaster relief initiative, Ayuda Legal Huracán María, the Center for Investigative Journalism (Centro de Periodismo Investigativo), and Democracy Forward have sought information that would reveal why the Trump Administration failed to prepare for and adequately respond to the needs of Puerto Rican families. Among the information sought are records that would show how Spanish-speaking relief workers were deployed by FEMA, whether plans were made to provide services for at-risk communities, what nutritional standards FEMA established for food aid deliveries, and the total number of claims for relief assistance that have been denied.
Over five months ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, decimating its infrastructure and leaving the entire island without power. More than 1,000 people have died as a result of the hurricane and subsequent lack of adequate medical attention and services. The hurricane and its impact deepened an already existing economic and humanitarian crisis on the island, a dire situation made worse by the lacking federal response. FEMA, the federal agency charged with overseeing disaster relief response, has come under widespread criticism for its failed management of the emergency response in Puerto Rico, including its decision to centralize aid on an island left with impassable, debris-filled roads.
“The response of federal agencies after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico has not only been slow, and at times inhumane, but, it has completely lacked transparency,” said Carla Minet, the Executive Director of the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo. “FEMA continues to delay responses to our requests and that of other journalists, making it impossible for us to accurately inform the public. People demand explanations and FEMA cannot escape public scrutiny.”
LatinoJustice PRLDEF Associate Counsel, Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan said, “FEMA’s absolute negligence and blatant disregard for the survival needs of thousands, if not millions, of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria is criminal. Not only has FEMA been the primary obstacle to relief for Puerto Ricans, but it continues to be so by denying needed assistance to those whose homes and lives have been destroyed.”
Ayuda Legal Huracán María, a disaster relief initiative organized by the Access to Justice Roundtable in Puerto Rico through local attorney Ariadna Godreau Aubert and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, has been working on the island to assist those affected by the hurricane with legal assistance and filing claims with FEMA.
“President Trump failed to provide millions of Americans suffering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria with the competent, steady leadership needed to pull through recovery,” said Democracy Forward Foundation Policy and Strategy Director, Corey Ciorciari. “The Administration has failed to provide effective disaster relief for millions of Puerto Ricans and the American people deserve to know why.”
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