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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) today joined a delegation of members from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to visit Gov. Wanda Vázquez. (Courtesy)

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) today joined a delegation of members from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to visit Puerto Rico.

The delegation assessed the progress of the recovery efforts and evaluated the assistance the island needs for reconstruction and resiliency efforts in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes.

Illinois has the seventh largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, with more than 200,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the recent earthquakes left behind a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, leaving millions of people without power and many families in desperate need of food assistance and medical supplies. In these situations, we must be vigilant about fraud and waste. We brought this issue up with the Governor directly and reiterated that taxpayer money should be spent wisely and efficiently,” Durbin said.

“Overall, today’s visit reaffirmed the fact that Puerto Ricans are strong and resilient. I will continue working with my colleagues, like Congressman García, to ensure the federal government is doing everything we can to help Puerto Rico rebuild following the recent natural disasters, and to invest in resiliency efforts to prepare for the future.”

“It is a disgrace that after two and a half years, Puerto Ricans continue to live without roofs, children don't have schools, and individuals continue to die as a result of inadequate access to health care and services. Our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters have suffered for too long and what we’ve seen on this trip is a powerful reminder of the urgency of the situation. We must do everything we can to put the people of Puerto Rico on the immediate path to long-term recovery and economic stability. We must finally get to the bottom of what has taken so long for federal aid to turn into tangible results,” said García.

Today, Durbin and García met with Alex Amparo, Assistant Administrator of the National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); and Ottmar Chavez, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3), to discuss hurricane and earthquake recoveries and Public Assistance (PA) progress in Puerto Rico. Afterwards, they met with Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and select cabinet officials involved with response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Next, Durbin and García visited the Crowley Maritime Terminal and discussed logistics challenges and successes during recent disaster responses and upgrades to the port facilities in 2017. Finally, they met with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Jacksonville District), as well as representatives from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Durbin repeatedly called on President Trump to issue a full Disaster Declaration for the entire island of Puerto Rico and take a series of steps to coordinate the federal response in Puerto Rico. In 2019, Durbin fought against efforts by the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans to strip away funds that Puerto Rico desperately needed as they continued to recover from Hurricane Maria in the House-passed natural disasters aid package. In August 2019, Durbin joined a group of his colleagues in calling out the Trump Administration for continuing to withhold Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Funds (CDBG-DR) from Puerto Rico—a move the Administration finally reversed last month.

Last month, Durbin and 33 of his Senate colleagues urged President Trump to support Puerto Rican Governor Vázquez Garced’s request for a disaster declaration following the most recent earthquakes. President Trump granted the request on January 16.

Earlier this month, García voted for $4.89 billion in emergency supplemental funds for disaster relief for Puerto Rico and has consistently called the Trump Administration to treat Puerto Ricans like the American citizens they are. In January, he joined Puerto Ricans to protest the delay of the Major Disaster Declaration for the islands.

Last April, during a hearing at the Financial Services Committee, García slammed the big banks about their exploitation of Puerto Rico’s debt for profit. Later in May, he participated in a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee about PROMESA, the federal law that’s being used to guide the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt.

This is García’s second trip to Puerto Rico as a congressman. In February 2019, he traveled to the island with Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security to examine the status of FEMA’s Hurricane María recovery operations.

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