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Sat. May 18th, 2024

Thank you all for joining us, and thank you to my colleagues standing with me today. It’s been more than two months since hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. During that time we have seen time and time again after natural disasters we have seen the best of who we are as Americans and an incredible outpouring of humanitarian support from people around the country, whether its donating their time or their food or their money.

Unfortunately while so many Americans are doing so much, the federal government has not done nearly enough to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover and rebuild. Inevitably the headlines will begin to recede and the television cameras will all go home, and when that happens we cannot allow Congress to forget that our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are suffering. We must all pledge to help these families until the islands are all rebuilt and fully back on their feet. Anything less is a dereliction of our duty.

I was honored to be able to visit Puerto Rico after the hurricanes to get facts on the ground first hand. And from what I saw and I heard, the appropriate response from Congress was very clear to me. We must rise to the occasion and create a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. So far Congress has done the minimum, the minimum, expected of us by passing two supplemental aid packages. I supported them both as a first step but I wanted to make it very clear that what we have done to date is insufficient and the Trump administration’s most recent request falls dramatically short.

We can’t forget that hurricanes flatten neighborhoods, destroy the power grids, significantly damage water infrastructure, which made clean drinking water hard to find. Three of Puerto Rico’s biggest industries — manufacturing, finance, tourism – which drive their already struggling economy remain severely damaged because the hurricane wiped out so many factories and buildings and hotels.

Many people had a job the day before Maria struck and no longer have any place to work. In other words, this isn’t just a natural disaster, it’s an economic disaster that local governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot dig out of on their own. The federal government needs to move forward now on a massive recovery effort. A real Marshall Plan. And that is exactly what this bill does. This bill will fully fund Puerto Rico’s request for disaster community development block grants, which are the most flexible form of federal disaster assistance to rebuild homes and businesses and fund projects that will make the islands more resistant.

By providing more than $154 billion in federal funding, this bill will match the enormous scope of damage caused by these hurricanes. And it fixes the systemic injustices that have already made recovery so difficult. It would ensure that there would be enough funding to restore power on the islands, and it would go even further to modernize the grid and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels to ensure that they are protected from the next storm.

The funding is enough to rebuild their roads, commerce, tourism so people can travel to their jobs, to school. Family members can find each other and stay together. But it also goes further because it provides the assistance to modernize the rest of the infrastructure. Their energy grid, hospital, roads, bridges, reservoirs, schools, dams, thousands of buildings and homes all destroyed by these hurricanes.

It will also address Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, which has exacerbated the effects of the hurricanes and made it that much more difficult to recover. It helps reduce Puerto Rico’s debt, much of which is owned by predatory hedge funds, and it provides Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with access to liquidity to ensure that the governments can continue to function and provide basic services while they work to recover their revenue base. The bill will help to put them on stable ground so they move forward in their efforts and also not have to worry about being in financial despair.

We are never going to turn out back on our fellow citizens, whether you live in New York, Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico. On behalf of the families in my state, I want to thank Senator Sanders and all of my colleagues standing here with us on the importance of this legislation, and I urge all of our colleagues in the Senate and the House to support a real Marshall Plan and pass this bill as part of the next disaster supplemental package.

Thank you.

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