Photo by Airman 1st Class Nicholas Dutton/Department of Defense
The Civil Air Patrol, in cooperation with the Air National Guard, conducts an aerial survey over northern Puerto Rico on Sept. 26, 2017.

A pair of Queens’ representatives on Capitol Hill are continuing to fight for Puerto Rico as legislative measures last week moved closer to helping the island recover from last year’s devastating hurricane season.

Congress members Grace Meng and Nydia Velázquez both announced on July 26 that some of their efforts to help provide relief to Puerto Rico and to study the emergency response to Hurricane Maria are moving forward in the House of Representatives.

For Velázquez, that meant securing legislation within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would help give incentive to federal agencies to employ Puerto Rican businesses and create local jobs. The legislation would allow federal agencies to count double toward their small business contracting goals the procurement dollars awarded to firms in Puerto Rico.

“Ten months have passed since Hurricane Maria ravished Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, devastated the electrical grid and crippled the already languishing economy,” Velázquez said. “My provision would channel federal dollars to the island, employing local small firms in the recovery process and on other projects. Federal procurement spending can be a powerful tool for stimulating local economic growth and, right now, Puerto Rico can use all the help it can get.”

According to the Congresswoman, Puerto Rico currently ranks 50th out of 56 in comparison to all other U.S. states and territories for federal contracts performed there. Between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the total awards of federal contracts to Puerto Rican small businesses declined by nearly $85 million.

Meng’s legislation was more focused on holding the government accountable for its response to the disaster in Puerto Rico. The Congresswoman was able to secure an amendment in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would require the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to issue a report on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to Hurricane Maria.

Specifically, that report would require an assessment of how FEMA could improve its response to appeals for housing aid. Meng, who traveled to Puerto Rico earlier this year to assess the recovery efforts herself, said that many mistakes were made in the wake of the storm.

“The response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was slow and wholly inadequate, and 10 months after Puerto Rico was devastated by the storm, our fellow Americans on the island continue to struggle with rebuilding,” Meng said. “It is critical to have a detailed review of how FEMA conducted its response, and that we learn what improvements can be made going forward. There were many mistakes and failures with the agency’s performance – from disbursing aid to addressing appeals for housing assistance – and these problems must not repeated for future disasters.”

While the NDAA passed the House and now moves to the Senate floor, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill passed the House Appropriations Committee and will now move to the House floor.

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