The Puerto Rican government has acknowledged that nearly 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria hit the island last year. At first, it said that only 64 people perished as a result of the storm.
On Friday, joined by local officials at the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal pointed to the debacle surrounding the death toll as a reflection on the United States government -- fewer lives would have been lost if the Trump administration had a stronger reaction to Maria.
“This administration has failed our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico from week one after the hurricane,” Blumenthal said. “Literally, throwing towels instead of providing real rebuilding support, saying the death toll was 17 when it really is 3,000 or more, [and] denying the Puerto Rico kind of prompt relief, repair, and rebuilding that has been provided to all other communities in America.”
The latest death toll figure comes from a George Washington University analysis. It is more than 30 times larger than the death count related to Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas a year ago this week.
"In Texas, the relief efforts were different on the ground,” said Wildaliz Bermudez, a city councilwoman in Hartford. “And here we are -- our population of newly arriving families who, in many cases, are still in a state of limbo and are also in a state of invisible homelessness.”
Bermudez said that the federal government’s response to Maria was “shameful.” And because of it, those that actually survived are facing a lack of resources.
Some people left the island for better prospects. For those that came to Connecticut, Bermudez said that the No. 1 necessity is and has been housing.
Meanwhile, local officials said that the $2.2 million that the city of Hartford received as part of a federal aid package that provides funding to schools that took in student-evacuees from Puerto Rico is not enough.
“We’re grateful for the $2.2 million that we are about to [receive] but we also need to highlight that it’s not enough to provide the necessary service that our students need,” said Dr. Madeline Negron, the chief academic officer for Hartford Public Schools.
The district reports that it incurred a $3.1 million budget gap as a result of welcoming over 450 new student-evacuees.
Negron said the money—and the potential for more funding--could close the gap to about $500,000.
The state Department of Education will receive a total of $10.6 million that will be distributed to several Connecticut towns as part of the aid package.
As for support of infrastructure to the areas where Maria made landfall, Blumenthal is touting a proposed senate bill called The Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act.
Blumenthal said the plan is similar to the Marshall Plan -- aid that the United States provided in order to boost Western Europe after World War II.