Among the most troubling of the many untruths advanced by President Donald Trump is his repeated insistence that the federal government did a good — indeed, a “tremendous” — job responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
A recent study estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm, and nearly a year later, residents are still struggling to cope with disruptions that affect nearly every facet of life. That the president sees nothing wrong with that — even defines it as success — is obscene. It should concern anyone who takes seriously the government’s responsibility to help people afflicted by natural disaster.
During an Oval Office briefing Tuesday on preparations for Hurricane Florence, Trump brushed aside questions about any lessons learned from the widely panned government response to Maria. “An incredible, unsung success,” he said. Wednesday morning he followed up with a tweet about the “unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico.”
He got one thing right — about the job not being appreciated. A Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released hours after Trump’s tweet showed Puerto Ricans are widely dissatisfied with local and federal government for their utter failure to respond to their needs. The most intense ire was aimed at Trump: Eight of 10 residents gave him negative reviews, including roughly half who gave him the lowest grade of “poor.”
The survey was the first to gauge the experiences of residents who lived on the island when Maria hit last September, and it offered fresh evidence of the storm’s stunning devastation and lingering effects. Eighty-three percent reported either major damage to their homes, loss of power for more than three months, employment setbacks or worsening health problems. To this day, complaints persist of unreliable power, damaged roads and suspect water. “We’re living day by day, and we’re living with hope that things might get better, but they have not,” said one resident of Bayamón.
There is no question that Puerto Rico, with its island location, credit problems and already frayed infrastructure, presented logistical challenges for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). None of that, though, gives the administration a pass.
A FEMA after-action report showed that the agency greatly underestimated how much food and water would be needed and that it had thousands fewer workers than were needed, with many not qualified. An investigation by Politico showed a marked difference in the administration’s handling of relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, with a far more aggressive approach taken to help victims in Texas.
Trump’s comments about Puerto Rico — and his silence when the Puerto Rican government raised its official death toll from 64 to 2,975 — show a clear double standard that is not lost on Puerto Ricans, who told Post-Kaiser researchers that rebuilding the island is not a federal priority.
“The president of the United States has to remember that we’re Puerto Ricans; if you like it or not, we’re part of the United States, too,” said a resident of Ponce. “You see the response they got in Miami and New Orleans; they respond right away. Over here, it ain’t working that way. “
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST