On Sunday, September 18, President Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico amid the territory’s struggle with the onslaught of Hurricane Fiona. President Biden’s declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “coordinate all disaster relief efforts to alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population” according to a FEMA press release.
President Biden’s action falls under Title V of the Stafford Act which was signed into law in 1988, allowing the United States federal government to swiftly enact nationwide relief efforts.
“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment, and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” the White House stated. They added that emergency protective measures and direct federal funding “will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.”
For “Tropical Storm Fiona,” FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell put Robert Little III in charge of “Federal recovery operations in the affected areas” according to The White House. With a background of nearly 30 years with the New Jersey State Police, Little’s LinkedIn Profile states that he has been leading emergency efforts with FEMA for over six years.
Don Graves, US Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator made a statement on Twitter Monday morning regarding Biden’s efforts. “Hurricane Maria wrought devastation upon Puerto Rico five years ago,” Graves said. “As we approach this solemn anniversary, Puerto Rico is once again sustaining severe weather, this time from Hurricane Fiona.” Graves also commends Biden’s acting “swiftly” in issuing his emergency declaration.
The declaration comes a day after Hurricane Fiona’s destructive winds and flash flooding caused power outages for all 3.2 million people in Puerto Rico. As of publishing time, PowerOutage.us states that 1.2 million residents are still left without power after the National Hurricane Center reported that the storm made landfall near Punta Tocon at around 3:20 pm on Sunday.
Puerto Rico’s current power crisis echoes 2017 when Hurricane Maria left residents without power for months. In 2022, the territory’s power infrastructure remains susceptible to tropical storms in the wake of budget cuts imposed by the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). Since its creation over ten years ago, acrecampaigns.org states that PROMESA has privatized Puerto Rico’s publicly owned power grid while hiking rates on utility customers.
While still awaiting more funding for disaster relief from previous hurricanes, Puerto Rico anticipates more economic damage. The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Maria caused over $90 billion dollars in damage to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. As of August 2022, FEMA has provided around $32 billion dollars of aid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for recovery. Now, Puerto Rico faces flooding, landslides, and ongoing power outages that will continue to affect the economic infrastructure.
In reacting to the damages from Hurricane Fiona, Governor Pedro Pierluisi indicated he would solicit a disaster declaration from President Biden, which would enable local governments and citizens to directly access aid from FEMA once granted.
Last month, Don Graves met with local community leaders, Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi, and business leaders to “discuss the administration’s commitment to make Puerto Rico’s economic recovery and development a priority,” Graves said in his statement Monday morning.
“Puerto Rico has long embodied a tenacious resilience,” Graves said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico and will continue to work with Puerto Rico’s government and institutions on this road to recovery.”