Latinx leaders and lawmakers slammed President Trump’s State of the Union speech after the president made only one throwaway reference to the struggles hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico is facing.
The remark came one day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it would end food and water aid to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from damage incurred during Category 4 Hurricane Maria.
“To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else, we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” Trump said Tuesday night, near the beginning of his hour and a half-long speech. He then rattled off the names of states and territories impacted by climate disasters last year before quickly moving on to other topics — none of which were Puerto Rico.
That dismissal went over poorly with a number of officials. Puerto Rico is worse off than any other part of the United States right now and the president’s decision to ignore the island enraged lawmakers and advocates alike, especially within the Latinx community.
“Over the past [four] months, this President has neglected Puerto Rico and the reality that he has presided over the worst humanitarian crisis in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina,” José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, said in a statement following the speech. “Today, he made a quick passing reference to being with and even loving the people of Puerto Rico, along with other disaster-stricken American territories. These represent empty words from an empty President who has proven incapable of leading a necessary project of relief, recovery and reconstruction in Puerto Rico.”
He added, “Mr. President, please don’t say you stand with us when you continue to fail to provide Puerto Rico the basic resources it needs and deserves to heal.”
Calderón wasn’t alone in his frustration.
“I was hoping for some sort of apology on Puerto Rico, but I heard nothing,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL). “Puerto Rico is a metaphor for how this president sees all Latinos and people of color: He does not see us as his equals, and he does not see us as fellow human beings.”
Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), who brought as his guest Claudia Baez, a woman who was forced to leave Puerto Rico after the hurricane, said he hoped Baez’s presence would inspire others to remember the island. When that didn’t happen, Soto expressed his disappointment on Twitter.
“As @realDonaldTrump tells the people of Puerto Rico at
#SOTU ‘we love you & we stand with you,’ he is allowing FEMA to stop providing food and water aid overnight!” Soto wrote.
FEMA’s decision to end food and water aid to Puerto Rico comes as the island continues to languish, more than 130 days after the hurricane first made landfall. Hospitals and schools are struggling to operate and many on the island lack access to electricity. Twenty percent of the island is still without potable water.
NPR reported that FEMA would be ending aid on Monday, but the news only began to circulate on Tuesday. Following Trump’s speech, lawmakers pointed to the decision as further proof of White House negligence.
“After one of the worst humanitarian crises in our nation’s history, @realDonaldTrump just mentions
#PuertoRico in #SOTU, saying he “loves ” those recovering – on same day it comes out FEMA is cutting off help. Shameful!” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), the first Puerto Rican to be elected to Congress, tweeted during Trump’s speech.
After one of the worst humanitarian crises in our nation's history, @realDonaldTrump just mentions #PuertoRico in #SOTU, saying he "loves " those recovering – on same day it comes out FEMA is cutting off help. Shameful!
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) January 31, 2018
One of Trump’s biggest critics, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, was in attendance for the president’s speech as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) guest. Cruz has repeatedly criticized Trump’s failure to help Puerto Rico and she didn’t hold back Tuesday night.
“Not even a mention on PR & FEMA will stop providing food and water tomorrow,” she tweeted. “We are not in the Republican radar. We must double the fight.”
“Mr Trump lives a reality of his own not shared by most. He is definitely in ‘wonderland,'” she added moments later.
Not even a mention on PR & FEMA will stop providing food and water tomorrow. We are not in the Republican radar. We must double the fight.
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) January 31, 2018
Mr Trump lives a reality of his own not shared by most. He is definitely in “wonderland”.
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) January 31, 2018
Actor and activist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, and Republican strategist Ana Navarro also retweeted condemnations of Trump’s decision to bypass any real mention of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are lobbying FEMA to reverse its decision to end food and water aid to Puerto Rico. The government of Puerto Rico said on Tuesday that while officials were aware aid would eventually end, the announcement came as a surprise. FEMA officials themselves have offered conflicting information. In an email to NPR last week, an agency spokesperson said that food and water aid would end on January 31, at which point the mission would “officially shut off.”
FEMA spokesman William Booher contradicted that statement on Wednesday, telling the Associated Press that the agency was in fact still deciding when to formalize the decision to end the aid.
UPDATE: In a reversal, Puerto Rico’s government announced on Wednesday that an agreement has been reached with FEMA to “maintain the distribution of aid to communities that still need it.” Secretary for the Department of Public Security Hector Pesquera said that Puerto Rico is “confidant that FEMA will continue to provide the necessary assistance” to the island.