It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, resulting in approximately 3,000 deaths and devastating the island with food and medicine shortages and upwards of $43 billion in damages. The U.S. territory and its 3.3 million residents have still not recovered.
Despite this, President Donald Trump failed to mention Puerto Rico a single time in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening.
“Not one word, not one word about Puerto Rico,” tweeted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.
Not one word, not one word about Puerto Rico.
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) February 6, 2019
Trump’s silence falls in line with his administration’s neglect of the island. In the days following the hurricane, the president visited the territory and downplayed the damage, placing the blame of the devastation on Puerto Rico’s own financial crisis.
Although Trump has long defended his administration’s handling of the island’s recovery process, rejecting criticism and even doubting the island’s death toll, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has admitted its own missteps in aiding Puerto Ricans, from inconsistently supplying food and water, to being poorly prepared and understaffed.
A ThinkProgress investigation in October found that more than 1,000 Puerto Ricans had been abandoned by FEMA, which had stopped funding the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program nearly one year after Maria hit, leaving many displaced hurricane survivors homeless. Furthermore, advocates said FEMA often failed to provide people with information and resources to help them rebuild their lives, including short-term rental assistance and home repair funds and loans.
The ongoing disaster is what motivated Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to invite Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to Trump’s speech Tuesday night, as a reminder to the president “that Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery is far from over.”
In an interview the The Hill on Tuesday, Rossello acknowledged FEMA’s failures in responding to the disaster, adding that the agency “has been slow, they’ve put obstacles in Puerto Rico that they haven’t placed anywhere else in the United States, and it has delayed our recovery significantly.”
Rossello explained that while individual states on the mainland typically dole out FEMA funds when a disaster strikes, the federal agency has taken over for Puerto Rico, due to the fact that the U.S. territory is not a state.
“The result is everything is slower, so much so that if you compare today after 16 months of the hurricane in Puerto Rico and 16 months after Katrina, they had over 9,500 projects moving forward in Louisiana, whereas you only have 44 in Puerto Rico.”