FEMA Reverses Decision to End Water and Food Assistance to Puerto Rico

Although a third of Puerto Rico residents still lack electricity and many have no running water, FEMA announced on January 30 that it would abruptly end the distribution of emergency food and potable water on January 31. The agency reversed its decision the following afternoon, following vigorous protests by members of Congress and officials in Puerto Rico. FEMA supported its original decision to end emergency water and food distribution by citing internal estimates that only 1% of islanders were still in need. In the town of Morovis, however, Mayor Carmen Maldonado reported that a third of the town’s residents still need and receive FEMA rations. The government of Puerto Rico released a statement that it was unaware FEMA planned to end the distribution of food and water. Although FEMA agreed to continue helping the Puerto Rican government distribute food and water, the agency does not plan to continue new shipments of emergency rations. If current supplies run out, FEMA will consider purchasing more, although a spokesperson maintained the current stockpile would be sufficient. 

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) stated on the Senate floor on January 30 that he was “absolutely shocked” by FEMA’s decision, which he called “unconscionable and a travesty.” He called on the administration to reverse the decision, stating, “FEMA needs to continue to provide food and water to the island until, at the very least, all of the island has access to potable water and electricity.” He and fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R) also urged the Senate to pass much-needed disaster aid, which the House passed in December 2017. Other members of Congress, including Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), also denounced FEMA’s decision.