June 13, 2018

Cortez Masto Presses FEMA, HHS on Federal Government’s Failures on Puerto Rico Fatality Count Following Hurricane Maria

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined in a bicameral letter led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Representative Nydia M. Velá?zquez (D-N.Y.), and Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeking information about the federal government’s role in the official accounting of fatalities due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. They pressed FEMA Administrator Brock Long and HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the federal government's unwillingness or inability to provide assistance or demand accountability in that process, and failure to obtain data necessary for disaster planning and provision of federal benefits.

recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that there were between 793 and 8,498 Hurricane Maria-related fatalities in Puerto Rico, with a midpoint estimate of 4,600. But the Puerto Rico government’s count still stands at 64. The Members of Congress noted that an accurate death toll is necessary to understand the true severity of conditions on the ground, to identify potential problems and vulnerabilities, to assess the quality of disaster response, and to establish future disaster-preparedness policies. These statistics also influence the amount of federal aid requested for pre- and post-disaster mitigation and adaptation plans, which is critical as this year’s hurricane season begins. Undercounting the fatalities might also prevent victims from receiving important benefits.

“The inability to obtain an accurate accounting of fatalities following a natural disaster that occurred on U.S. soil has real and significant consequences,” wrote the Members of Congress. “We are extremely concerned by the ongoing inability to obtain an updated, accurate death toll from Hurricane Maria, and the Trump Administration’s failure to provide any assistance or demand accountability in that process.” 

The Members of Congress asked Administrator Long and Secretary Azar to identify how the federal government will address fatality count discrepancies and better execute disaster response and assistance to Puerto Ricans and other communities affected by hurricanes in the future.

Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) as well as Representatives Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.), Brendan F. Boyle (D-Penn.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) also signed the letter. 

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.