U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited Puerto Rico to evaluate relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s damage to the island.
In Puerto Rico, Kaine was struck by the immense magnitude of the damage, which has left the vast majority of Puerto Ricans without power and many without access to clean water or food. In response to concerns Kaine expressed during the visit about the relatively small size of the aid package the Trump Administration has proposed for Puerto Rico, compared to previous relief packages following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, DHS officials in Puerto Rico assured Kaine that the recently announced aid request is just designed as an initial step until the island’s long-term rebuilding needs can be assessed. Kaine will press the Administration to follow through on that commitment to additional, critical aid to Puerto Rico and will make the case to his colleagues in Congress to support it.
On a call with reporters today, Kaine said, “The size of that initial package, especially seeing the scope of the damage, seemed pretty paltry. However, I am happy to say when I raised that question, the DHS and FEMA folks said, ‘look, here’s what we’re doing. We put down a package that’s really to try to get us through to the end of the calendar year so that we can fully assess what’s needed because even assessing things in an environment where there’s no power and the communications and transportation networks are compromised is difficult.’ So what we need to do is work with our colleagues to make sure we get this immediate help. We need to make sure that it is spent the right way, we have to prioritize the spending in ways that will address the issues of most need.”
“As Governor I dealt with disaster relief like hurricanes, storms, fires, the shooting at Virginia Tech. This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I’ll tell you why,” Kaine said on the call. “When you are in Virginia and you are dealing with a massive hurricane, you have a big chunk of your state that’s been affected but other parts of your state have only had minimum effects and some have had no effects. So you can move people from the affected areas into the other places where there is medical care, where there is electricity, where there is water. And that’s often what you do. And that is the case for virtually any emergency response that you make as a mayor and as a governor. There are places that are affected but there are places that are not. This is very, very different. . . . Hurricane Maria made a direct hit across the island from southeast to northwest. There was no part of the 3.5 million people, no part of the island that was not dramatically affected by this.”
Last month, Kaine joined 36 of his colleagues in expressing deep concern to President Trump over the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and calling on the White House to take specific actions as quickly as possible to help these American citizens. Kaine also called for President Trump to temporarily waive the Jones Act if it would help get aid to Puerto Rico, which Trump eventually did.