Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump tweeted that we cannot keep disaster relief efforts in the American territory forever. This statement comes on the heels of his tone-deaf and callused behavior towards the people of Puerto Rico, including complaining about the relief efforts acting as a nuisance to the budget and advising Puerto Ricans that they should just take care of themselves.
Make no mistake: these are Americans, and because helping them is expensive and time-consuming, the president believes we simply shouldn't. Meanwhile, disaster relief continues in Texas and Florida with no end date in sight.
As it stands, 16 percent of Puerto Rico has power (and that's on a good day). The drinking water situation is so bad that the people are trying to use water contaminated by hazardous waste. Hospitals are low on medicine. Conditions like these can turn into an outbreak of superbugs. Food is running out. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal told press, "We are on the verge of failing Puerto Rico."
When San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin cruz begged for help on behalf of her constituents the president tweeted about professional football players taking a knee.
Maria is literally the perfect storm. Already cash- and resource-strapped FEMA struggled to aid Puerto Rico. Logistically, delivering supplies remains a nightmare due to destroyed docks and shipping limitations. The government infrastructure is weakened as many members of the government are in need of aid themselves. FEMA typically works as support for local disaster relief efforts must now act as first responders -- a role they were not prepared for, according to FEMA Administrator William "Brock" Long. Long also puts the onus for failed effort on Puerto Rican government, blaming infighting for the lack of coordinated relief efforts.
When Harvey hit Texas, FEMA deployed 31,000 relief personnel. 40,000 went to Florida after Irma. Deployment levels for Puerto Rico were 14,000. In 2010 the Department of Defense deployed 300 aircrafts to Haiti. Puerto Rico received 80.
That's right: our military did more for a foreign nation than they are currently doing for an American territory.
Our disaster response is, quite frankly, a disaster.
This is hardly the first time FEMA has come under fire for lackluster response. During Irma, reports of the elderly living in retirement homes dying to sweltering temperatures because the county did not prioritize restoring air conditioning are rampant. Budget changes require significant time for approvals, and contracts end without replacements in sight. The system needs an overhaul, and it needs it now.
As FEMA says, long-term assistance begins and ends in communities. While this is certainly true, FEMA's involvement doesn't stop once the bleeding is staunched. Long-term relief can cover anything from physically reconstructing cities to local PTSD counseling with social workers. FEMA guides this lengthy process by coordinating local and federal resources as well as providing ongoing financial assistance.
Unless, of course, you live in Puerto Rico.
The moral of the president's tweeting is this: if Americans become too difficult or costly to aid, we won't. By the people, for the people -- unless the people are a budgetary nuisance.