HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut’s two U.S. senators are pressing their colleagues to do more to help the residents of Puerto Rico, who are still recovering from a hurricane that hit the island more than 100 days ago.
“Puerto Rico is in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Thursday on the Senate floor, a day after returning from a two-day fact-finding trip to the U.S. territory with fellow Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy.
“They lack the support they need in resources and commitment from the administration and from this Congress,” Blumenthal said. “It has been denied to them in resources and support because of a lack of will, not a lack of money.”
It’s the latest example of Connecticut’s efforts since Hurricane Maria to help Puerto Ricans, who represent about 8.4 percent of the state’s total population, according to 2014 numbers from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at New York’s Hunter College.
Ranking as the sixth state with the most Puerto Ricans, Connecticut has been a destination for many evacuees from the island, even though it’s more than 1,600 miles away. Assistance centers have opened to help people find housing, schooling and jobs and other services in the state. The United Way 2-1-1 system has helped match evacuees with support and donated resources. State mental health services have been provided to evacuees and the Office of Early Childhood has been helping to find childcare for families.
Meanwhile, members of the Connecticut National Guard and the Connecticut State Police have traveled to Puerto Rico to provide support for the recovery efforts.
“Connecticut knows first-hand how important it is to get Puerto Rico recovered,” said Democratic Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman.
Blumenthal said it was “heartbreaking and gut-wrenching” to visit the island, describing how he and Murphy walked through Cano Martin Pena, a downtown San Juan neighborhood that was engulfed in darkness.
“How can students study? How can parents care for children,” asked Blumenthal. “There simply are not enough generators for every home to have one. And generators themselves are only a stopgap source of power.”
Connecticut’s senators also met with Puerto Rico’s governor, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They toured a hospital and met with the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a group that has partnered with New Haven for Puerto Rico, which donated 90 mattresses to families on the island.
Blumenthal on Thursday called on senators to not only pass an immediate relief package, but expand it. He said Puerto Rico’s governor is requesting $94 billion, but the total package passed by the House of Representatives includes $81 billion, which is supposed to also include expenses for Florida, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Blumenthal has also co-sponsored another bill with Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and others, that includes more funding and measures to help the island rebuild economically for the long-