Grijalva, Sablan write to FEMA chief for assurances on virus response in US territories

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (House Natural Resources Committee Democrats) — Chair Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rep. Gregorio Sablan, D-MP, sent a letter t to Pete Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seeking more information on the administration’s Covid-19 response plans in U.S. territories, where weak economies and recent natural disasters are now putting hundreds of thousands of Americans at particular risk.

In the letter, available at https://bit.ly/2xFz17z, the lawmakers ask Gaynor for a briefing and written documentation on the administration’s plans to assist American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and note that President Trump only signed Major Disaster Declarations for Guam and Puerto Rico for additional Covid-19 support last week. Sablan is vice chair for insular affairs.

Elected leaders in the territories have been taking necessary precautions. Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez shut down the island’s beaches, clubs, and all non-essential business on March 16, well ahead of many similar orders on the mainland, despite Puerto Rico’s economic reliance on tourism. Still, the authors of the letter note, U.S. territories face unique Covid-19 challenges due to their geographic location, unequal treatment under federal programs, and dire financial situation. Most of the islands have recently been impacted by severe natural disasters — such as Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Irma, Super Typhoon Yutu, Super Typhoon Mangkhut, and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico — that have further weakened their health care infrastructure and limited their ability to effectively respond to new emergencies.

Grijalva and Sablan published a March 27 op-ed in El Nuevo Dia calling for a more concerted federal coronavirus response for U.S. territories and insular areas. In that piece, available at https://bit.ly/39mimTx, the authors wrote:

“The pandemic has not just highlighted the cracks in what we think of as everyday life. It’s put a bright spotlight on many communities we’ve ignored, neglected and conveniently forgotten about. Allowing millions of Americans across the country to live in poverty, with substandard housing and medical care, was always a policy choice, not an inevitable economic necessity, and the cost of that choice in human lives is now going up every day.”

The authors ask Gaynor for documents and more information no later than April 15.

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