Politics

Massachusetts Officials Launch Hurricane Maria Relief Fund

The money will go toward reconstruction and economic recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

hurricane maria puerto rico

Photo via AP

Massachusetts officials announced today the creation of the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico fund to help streamline donations and relief efforts for the hurricane-battered island.

A joint effort between Mayor Marty Walsh, the Boston Foundation, and the Latino Legacy Fund, the money will support reconstruction and economic recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million Americans are without power and are confronting the stark reality of water, food, and fuel shortages. Communication to and from the island has been all but cut off, as the Associated Press reported Maria destroyed 85 percent of the island’s cellphone towers.

Massachusetts has the fifth-largest population of Puerto Rican residents among states, and the money collected will also be put toward helping those who flee the island settle in the Commonwealth.

“The American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a monumental crisis that requires immediate action from our community, our civic leaders, and our elected officials,” said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, who will chair the committee overseeing the fund, in a press release. “We are ready to raise very needed funds to help the reconstruction of the island. We are grateful for the immediate outpour of support for this important effort.”

But for some, it’s still not enough.

Despite official warning against an influx of unsolicited assistance to Puerto Rico, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren doubled-down this morning on his call for Governor Charlie Baker to deploy the Massachusetts National Guard to assist with the fallout from Hurricane Maria.

States across the country have already sent personnel to the island, which has been plunged into complete disarray since the storm barreled directly into it nine days ago.

The federal response to the crisis thus far has been underwhelming, at best, with President Trump only yesterday waiving a shipping law that Puerto Rican officials said was delaying disaster relief from reaching the island, and which had previously been waived for people affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Trump administration’s positive assessment of the federal support contrasts with the dire first-hand accounts emerging from Puerto Rico.

In the wake of the national response, Warren called on the necessity of state governments to spring into action.

“I’ve talked to many people in Massachusetts who have family on the island, and they’re frustrated by the federal response,” Warren said during a conference call with reporters this morning. “While other governors are finding a way around that problem by finding a way to help, Charlie Baker is still waiting.”

Gov. Baker spoke with Puerto Rican Gov. Rick Rosselló earlier this week and has pledged that Massachusetts will welcome those fleeing the island. He also convened a task force to help those who arrive find homes and indicated National Guard soldiers could be deployed, according to the Boston Herald

National Guardsmen from Pennsylvania and New York, which are also home to large number of Puerto Ricans, have already been deployed.

However, sending in the Massachusetts National Guard is not in line with advice from the National Emergency Management Association. According to State House News Service, due to “extreme logistical challenges” and infrastructure breakdowns in Puerto Rico, the association is “strongly discouraging self-deployment of personnel.”

In response, Warren questioned the reliability of a computer system to indicate the level of need during a humanitarian crisis and highlighted the effectiveness of military involvement in relief efforts, especially when time is ticking.

“While reports from the island keep getting worse, thousands of Massachusetts residents of Puerto Rican descent have spent days waiting for messages from relatives on the island,” Warren said. “Our brothers and sisters need help right now.”