Watch the full interview with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on New York NOW this weekend, or with the free PBS app on your cellphone or smart device.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says the federal government has “abdicated its responsibility” to help recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, which is grappling from damage brought by thousands of earthquakes over the last seven weeks.
Hochul, who visited the island last week, said in an interview to air this weekend on New York NOW that the federal response hasn’t met the needs of the people living there.
“There is still such strong need and the federal government has abdicated their responsibility once again,” Hochul said.
She was in Puerto Rico to lead a state delegation of mental health professionals and building inspectors to aid residents who’ve been impacted by the earthquakes. Those resources hadn’t previously been made available following the disaster.
That’s on top of damage that still exists from Hurricane Maria, which slammed Puerto Rico in 2017 and left many without power — or a place to live — for months. Hochul said that more than two years later, much of the island is still dealing with the aftermath of the storm.
“You’d really have to see it to believe it,” Hochul said. “When you think about Puerto Rico and you see pictures of San Juan and everything looks like it's back to normal from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, you don’t have to go very far to see the devastation ... that still exists.”
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $4.89 billion aid package for Puerto Rico last week, but it’s unclear if those funds will be approved by the Senate.
Even if lawmakers in the upper chamber pass the measure, it’s likely to be rejected by President Donald Trump. In a memo last week, the White House said the federal government has already allocated aid to Puerto Rico, and that billions of dollars of that funding remain unspent.
Hochul said she spoke to personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, during her trip to Puerto Rico. They’re doing the best they can, she said, but could be more effective with a stronger focus from the federal government.
“They should be doing more,” Hochul said. “Congress just passed a major aid bill that will help Puerto Rico but it has to get through the Senate and get signed by the president. Will he take that step?”
She recounted a now-viral video of President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, when he visited the island and threw rolls of paper towels into a crowd of affected residents. Hochul called that “unconscionable,” and said the response now should be different.
“When you think about how long it took to get aid to that island after Hurricane Marria, it was unconscionable — the wait people had to have, and then the resident goes down and throws rolls of paper towels at people and they’re supposed to be grateful,” Hochul said.
“These are proud people. They want to be respected and not treated like a photo op,” she continued.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made several trips to Puerto Rico in recent years to deliver aid from New York state following Hurricane Maria. He visited again after a major earthquake hit the island last month.