Voces in Action

The following was submitted as a statement for the congressional record to the House and Senate on November 7th and 14th respectively.

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria changed the lives of 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands stranding them without shelter, food, clean water, electricity, and services, disconnecting entire communities from the rest of the world. Almost two months later, the situation remains dire with millions still without power or access to clean drinking water. Government response has been slow and inefficient resulting in prolonged hardship and unnecessary risk to human health. Our fellow citizens should not be forced to wait any longer. The time for action is now.

We at Voces call on congressional leaders to act swiftly to put Puerto Rico on the path to a just recovery that prioritizes the needs of the people, directed by the people. As in the case of Florida and Houston, we call on leadership to deliver a robust relief package that does not force Puerto Ricans to give up environmental or other safeguards and rights. In addition to resolutions presented by other organizations and the NHLA letter, Voces presents the following recommendations.

(This list is intended to be an initial list that should be expanded upon in consultation with impacted communities beforehand):

Mobilizing Federal Agencies to Meet Immediate Needs for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands: Under the National Response Framework, responsible federal agencies must take immediate action to ensure that residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have reliable access to critical services such as water, energy, and housing.

Rebuilding the Electrical Grid Prioritizing Resilience and Clean Energy: Urgently addressing the need for access to electricity must not sacrifice health and wellbeing. Rebuilding the grid and electricity systems with an emphasis on clean, renewable energy, stronger, more resilient to future storms, and more reliable.

An Immediate Analysis of the Safety of Drinking Water Sources: EPA must immediately begin testing of drinking water systems and publicly release the results. EPA should also develop a system for information distribution that takes into account the widespread communications disruptions which has left many disconnected or with sporadic access to communications systems.

Address Immediate Health Needs and Create Plans for the Future: The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services must take urgent action to address the immediate health needs of hurricane-affected areas, including mold exposure, wound infections and illness from contaminated water, heat-related illnesses and deaths, PTSD and other mental health issues, injuries from debris removal, and more. Federal agencies should develop comprehensive health plans for future disasters.

Incorporate Environmental Justice and Social Vulnerability into Recovery Planning: To ensure a just recovery, states, cities and communities receiving federal disaster aid and recovery funding must utilize an environmental justice (EJ) analysis, integrate considerations of Cumulative Environmental Exposures, Sensitive Populations, and Social Vulnerability, and working with communities—into recovery planning and policies crafted to support redevelopment and establishment of their recovery plans.

Post-Disaster Workforce Redevelopment Plan: The Department of Labor and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in collaboration with the Department of Energy should support a post-disaster redevelopment plan that ensures that displaced people can re-establish secure and sustainable livelihoods that enable their recovery, similar to what was done after Hurricane Katrina.

Resilient Water Infrastructure Funding: Provide $2 billion to support reconstruction of more resilient water infrastructure and funding to correct longstanding water infrastructure problems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Provide Technical Assistance to Recovering Communities: Responsible federal agencies have deep expertise and should be funded to provide technical assistance on multiple levels to support both immediate recovery from disasters and assessment of climate-related vulnerabilities for future planning purposes.

Flood Protection Standards for Federally-Funded Infrastructure: Reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard or create a flood protection standard that achieves the same outcome, to assist hurricane-impacted communities rebuild damaged infrastructure with a higher margin of safety against future flood events.

Maximize Deployment of Clean Energy in Rebuilding: Through direct grants to impacted communities, responsible federal agencies should support clean energy, energy efficiency and renewable generation, for electricity, heating and transportation, while ensuring recovery resources for rehabilitation and residential upgrades reach and benefit low income residents. Leverage existing grants, low-cost financing, and incentive programs to invest in rebuilding more efficient and storm-resistant homes and ensure proper disposal of discarded/ruined equipment.

Clean Energy for Low-Income Communities: Provide grants for communities to expand installation of energy efficiency upgrades and distributed renewables based on the Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator for communities affected by natural disasters to be funded through the Housing and Urban Development CDBG-Disaster Funds in close consultation with Department of Energy Weatherization and Intergovernmental Affairs Office.

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