Justice for Puerto Rico -- Hold FEMA Accountable
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On behalf of the residents of Puerto Rico, I am requesting that an investigation be conducted immediately into the mismanagement and unethical way in which FEMA responded and handled the funds and programs allocated for the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
As a resident of Puerto Rico, as a victim of Hurricane Maria, as a mother of a child who was handed blows to both her health and education due to this storm, as an advocate for human rights, as a leader of relief and rescue efforts, as a human being, I am completely appalled and insulted, shocked and disturbed that this in fact was our only hope, our only chance. I personally can attest to the failure and mishandling of the FEMA funds for this Island.
On September 17th, 2017, my 9year old daughter and myself along with a team of volunteers and a boat load of supplies went to St. Thomas to assist the EOC and VITEMA in Search and Rescue as well as supply distribution. We got stuck, our boats sunk, we didn’t make it back home until September 29, 2017. Upon coming home, we learned our life literally had drowned in the storm and then was buried by mold, everything my daughter had including her first drawings from preschool all the way to her favorite dolls were flooded out, there was nothing left, the water and mold took it all from us. Within just days, my 9year old daughter was rushed to the hospital with Pneumonia, the flooding and mold in the home attacked her respiratory system, she spent a week in the hospital battling pneumonia and colitis and upon being discharged, we set out to search for safe housing. We found another place to live at our own expense and although we never got a chance to replace our belongings, we had a safe home long enough for me to fight FEMA for months and months. December 11th 2017 I was finally granted an Inspection to determine if FEMA would finally help. A three-minute inspection, with the inspector being denied access to the rental we had, with her telling me that she would “finish the reports at home”, without her ever asking me what we lost, without her ever even asking my name, it was over that quick, we were denied within hours. To date, we have been denied every aspect of help including coverage for the medical bills, I have filed numerous appeals and each call tells me a difference answer, as of today, we have TSA that we just became aware of only until January 13, 2018 but other than that, we have not gotten anywhere other than being thrown in a circle of nonsense and instructions for new demands from FEMA with no help whatsoever. Sounds bad right? Our case doesn’t even reflect a margin of what the rest of the residents of Puerto Rico have went through and how Fema has handled them. It’s a disgrace and an injustice to the American people, and for the record, that is the Puerto Rican people.
On September 20, 2017, the Island of Puerto Rico was pummeled by the impact and force of Maria, the Hurricane was equally relentless and merciless, with devastating winds and flooding that created damages throughout infrastructure and life Island wide. When Maria was finished, Puerto Rico was left without power, running water, food and drinking water, healthcare, communication, shelter, and for a long time, it was stripped and absent of hope.
Days went by, and the consequences and aftermath of the storm became intensely felt, but yet help was slow to come. Municipalities battled with the need for answers, water, food, safe housing, medical care, and the urgency for someone to hear our cries for help, with the days passing and those needs being left unattended and unanswered.
When FEMA finally made their rounds throughout the Municipalities after weeks of waiting, they then performed one of the most inhumane circus acts filled with confusion, attitudes, and misinformation, but even worse, without any realistic help. People stood on lines for hours and hours, waiting for their chance to share their experience, to tell someone whom they believed had answers to their devastation the traumatic encounter they fared with Maria, only to be put in an assembly line of vast indifference and thrown documents and well recorded lines of a process that none would understand.
The following issues pertaining to FEMA and how they handled Puerto Rico are of not only of concern to the Puerto Rican people, but to the world.
TSA was issued in response to the great many folks whose homes were no longer habitable either due to the devastation or the health issues that arose from the lack of water and electricity, as well as the hazards to health such as mold infested homes and or other issues that became dangerously concerning to residents whose homes were brutalized by Maria. TSA was issued, but the problem is, no one knew about it. FEMA states it sent electronic or postal correspondence declaring that a household was issued TSA, however hundreds of thousands of people never knew, and the hotels who participated in this program can equally attest to that. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans sat in homes that should have been declared condemned as they waited and still do wait for FEMA to show up. They were and are completely unaware that they have an option not to sleep in a home full of mold, or with no roof. As these people sit in these deplorable conditions, the correspondence of FEMA remains a mystery because to date, they are still nowhere to be found.
Once people became aware of TSA through word of mouth, as the excitement of a safe sleeping zone grew, the number of hotels who participated were so low that it was impossible to take advantage of this program and it left the great many people of Puerto Rico back to feeling hopeless. Those that found the program in time, only quickly realized that the program has an ending date sooner than the possibly of finding or restoring safe housing. TSA was provided to give “transitional shelter assistance” with the hope that had the people been properly informed of this program and or how to use it, that FEMA would have enough time to process their application and award the monies needed to repair their homes. Unfortunately, that would have required FEMA to treat the residents of Puerto Rico like first class citizens versus the second and third-class treatment we received. Now as of January 14, 2017, there will be hundreds of homeless people that trusted in the process of FEMA and participated in their TSA program.
FEMA hired and contracted inspectors with zero qualifications that fully lacked the necessary skills and abilities to deal with a devastation of this magnitude, they practiced unethical and unfair treatment, taking advantage of the language barriers and the preexisting socioeconomically issues that were created due to the colonization of this Island and used the devastation of this storm to further cripple the chances to create a fair chance of being properly treated by our “Country”.
The vast majority of inspectors denied applications with reasons unknown and a process that was not fair, they played God, Judge, and Jury with hundreds of thousands of people who were completely confused and unaware of the system set in place that should have helped during the traumatic aftermath of the storm, instead it hurt them. Inspectors who didn’t listen or list the losses, Inspectors who failed to show for appointments and wrote false inspection reports, Inspectors who spent less that 5 minutes at a home and denied every application, and Inspectors who didn’t even call the applicant to the inspection and therefore it was denied, improperly trained and or hire Inspectors who made life changing decisions for victims of a catastrophic storm.
To add additional insult to injury, there was no direct helpline in place, all anyone had was a call center number with untrained customer service representatives, but never a realistic helpline with qualified professionals whose education and professional experience reflected that they were the best candidates to deal with an Island who lost life, their homes, necessities such a power and water, nevermind their mental wellbeing. Every call made into the call center resulted in mass confusion, misinformation, disrespect and answers that were not realistic or researched.
The appeals process is as flawed as every other program and department in FEMA, it is completely mind boggling that with all that is considered during a storm of this nature, that the victim of the storm, or in FEMA’s words, the applicant, is never given a chance to speak to someone that can explain case notes or outcomes, nor actually make a decision on the countless calls and cries for help.
The appeals departments as well as the “Caseworkers” are well protected secrets of the FEMA program and we are not granted the chance to know a name, speak to that person, or even correspond with them through email yet, they decide our fate. How can someone who never interacts or is present in any aspect of the case, determine what or how much you are entitled to, how is that even ethically possible. Countless calls are made, but the answers are never the same and the information is equally misguided call after call. A great majority of the representatives who field the questions, respond with such an authoritarian tone that mirrors the inappropriate relationship that FEMA has with the victims of this storm, as if we are a burden or even worst, undeserving of a healthy life and a safe home.
The monies that are granted to the few cases that are approved are so insanely inappropriate in comparison to what is needed to actually repair the devastation, that there is no fair of fighting chance for any residents here to be granted a realistic chance at having a normal life or a decent one, it is a cycle of a horrific relationship between the United States and the Island of Puerto Rico and action is immediately requested.
We request the attention of the President of the United States, The Justice Department, as well as all members of the House and Senate, we are pleading with you to please give the people of Puerto Rico fair and honest treatment in response to Hurricane Maria.
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