Committee Has Yet to Hold a Single Hearing on Islands’ Recovery One Year After Hurricanes Irma, Maria
Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, with seven colleagues on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), today sent a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to reiterate a request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges faced by the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In the letter, the senators noted that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to face serious challenges in their health and educational systems, and echoed a bipartisan call from December 2017 for the committee to hold hearings. The HELP Committee has not held any hearings on the islands’ recovery or the administration’s response to the hurricanes since they made landfall in September 2017.
Last month, the government of Puerto Rico revised its death toll to 2,975 lives lost from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. For months, the official death toll had been listed as 64 fatalities, despite numerous reports and studies indicating that the number of deaths caused by the storm was far higher. The update to the official death toll figures reflects the results of a government-commissioned study by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, which found that Hurricane Maria was in fact the deadliest natural disaster in modern U.S. history.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the senators noted, the Governor recently extended the territory’s ongoing state of emergency, while Puerto Rico is currently facing an exodus of doctors, an acute mental health crisis, and struggling elementary, secondary, and higher education systems.
“We have a responsibility to exercise our oversight responsibilities to ensure that our fellow U.S. citizens struggling with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria—the deadliest natural disaster in recent U.S. history—receive the resources and assistance they need to recover from these disasters and to rebuild in a long-term, sustainable way,” the senators wrote. “We must find out what went wrong in the preparation for and recovery from this disaster, and make sure that federal and state agencies are better prepared for the next natural disaster.”
In January 2018, 186 organizations sent a letter to Chairman Alexander and HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), echoing the bipartisan December 2017 call for the committee to hold hearings on the matter.
Joining Bennet in sending the letter were U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Tina Smith (D-MN).
A copy of the letter is available HERE.