Governor Cuomo: "I think President Trump should apologize to the people of Puerto Rico for the lack of FEMA's response and the lack of preparedness and the pain and the suffering that they've gone through. It was Mother Nature with Hurricane Maria and that we'll leave to Mother Nature. But it was Father Trump who compounded the problem by not having an appropriate federal response. Now they should start with an apology, and then they should follow it up with action."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced major milestones accomplished through the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding initiative launched in April. To date, 90 homes have been cleaned, restored, and rebuilt across the island, indicating that New York State is well on its way to reaching its goal of 150 homes renovated through the initiative. So far, over 400 student and labor volunteers have dedicated more than 25,000 hours to the initiative, and with two major deployments remaining, New York State will have mobilized more than 500 student volunteers and over 100 skilled labor volunteers to assist with recovery and rebuilding efforts this summer. More information is available here.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is below:
Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much. Thank you very much to the entire delegation for taking the time to join us once again. This is our fifth visit. I fear if I come back one more time they're going to charge me taxes in Puerto Rico. But it's our pleasure to be back.
We understand the time of trouble that the island is facing and in times of trouble it's very simple, friends show up and friends help friends. And in this case we're more than friends, we are literally brothers and sisters. We're very proud in New York to have the largest Puerto Rican population off the island. And the devastation that the island felt was felt in New York. I don't know that people can appreciate on the island how the pain communicated to New Yorkers. Not just Puerto Rican New Yorkers, but all New Yorkers. Because if you're a New Yorker you grow up with the Puerto Rican community. I'm a born and bred New Yorker, so the pain felt, the shock felt on the island was also felt in the state of New York.
And in New York, what we do is we act. We rise to the challenge and as soon as the emergency hit, as soon as the hurricane hit, as you heard from Rob Mujica, we came. We were on the first plane and we were doing everything we can and we're proud of what we did in that emergency effort. Over 1,000 personnel from the state of New York came to the island. National Guard, we sent police, the power authority came down the day after the hurricane. I think the power authority is still here. I haven't seen them back in New York. I came down on one trip, we sent, literally, the utility companies from New York State. Con Edison and trucks from across the state. I saw more Con Edison trucks in Puerto Rico than I saw in Manhattan. So the presence was very large and right across the board.
From health care need from the health care community. Greater New York Hospital Association sent staff and medical supplies. 1199 sent personnel. The nurses sent personnel. Everybody gave what everyone could. And not just in terms of personnel, but then New Yorkers all across the state donated a tremendous amount of goods. In total, over 4,000 pallets of goods were donated as well as millions of dollars. And some of the money came from foundations, some of the goods came from large corporations, et cetera. But the site in the Bronx and some of our urban areas where people would come out with one or two cans of food and they would say, this is all I have, but I wanted to share it. It was that type of personal connection that people just wanted to do whatever they could do. And it was a beautiful moment for New York because people like to say, well New Yorkers are tough. Yes, New Yorkers can be tough, but New Yorkers have a heart of gold and nobody comes together and nobody rises to a challenge like New Yorkers. And when someone is in trouble, no one gives more than the people of New York and we saw that in a way I've never seen before in the case of Puerto Rico and what you went through.
We also said at that time, the emergency is step one, but it is then going to be a rebuilding effort that goes on. And that's going to be a long road and that's going to be a road that continues after the cameras leave and after the newscasters leave and when you're not reading it in the newspaper anymore. And when the news media moves on, that, in many ways, is when the real work begins. And we said, we would walk that road with you. And it was going to be a long road and that's what today is about. It's about partnering in the long-term rebuilding with the goal of not just building back, but to build back better than before. A lot of the places damaged, a lot of the systems damaged needed to be improved anyway. And how do you take this opportunity not to just replace but to improve as you are rebuilding. And we have a very creative approach. The state has never done anything like this before where we have partnered for assistance in long-term reconstruction, and the partnership is not-for-profits that are on the ground doing great work. Like UNICEF, like All Hearts and Hands, like 9/11 - they're partners on the ground. We then brought in skilled construction trades from the New York City building trades who also partnered. And then college students from New York who go to state school - CUNY, SUNY - State University, City University of New York. Over 500 who wanted to help and wanted a way to help and they've given their time during the summer and coming down in two-week shifts to provide personnel power. And we came down to work with them and to tell them we appreciate them, and to do a little work to assist them in the meantime. So we will be here for the long-term. This is a connection of family and this is a connection of love, and that never ends. That connection never stops and we will be there until Puerto Rico is back up 100 percent. We have 1,100 Puerto Ricans in New York State now who were displaced. My goal and my hope is that every person who is displaced, when and if they want to go home, there is a home to go back to and that the island is better for the experience and stronger for the future.
I also want to make a comment on the federal government if I might. When we were here right after the storm, I said and I was highly critical of the federal government's response and FEMA's response. I said, I had worked in the federal government. I was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I did a lot of work with Puerto Rico at that time. Puerto Rico is one of the largest percentages of public housing in the United States, and I had visited the island many times. I had also done all of the emergency work during my eight years with the federal government. So I saw what the federal government can do. I saw what FEMA can do. And what FEMA was doing here on the island was not the federal government's best effort. They were not prepared. They hadn't done the work before the event they should have done. They were very slow to their response. And they were basically ineffective and anemic. I said, even in the weeks after the hurricane that the federal response was lacking and that the federal government should be ashamed of itself.
The federal government has now done a report on FEMA's response to the Puerto Rico hurricanes and the federal report on the FEMA response says exactly what we were saying. The federal report is highly critical of FEMA's response. It says, FEMA was short-handed, they were unprepared, they didn't have the resources, and it documents the failed effort. Okay. It's no shock, especially to the people of Puerto Rico because they live there. But, now that the federal government has admitted that their response compounded the problem, doesn't the federal government owe it to Puerto Rico to finally do the right thing? I think President Trump should apologize to the people of Puerto Rico for the lack of FEMA's response and the lack of preparedness and the pain and the suffering that they've gone through. It was Mother Nature with Hurricane Maria and that we'll leave to Mother Nature. But it was Father Trump who compounded the problem by not having an appropriate federal response. Now, they should start with an apology, and then they should follow it up with action. Puerto Rico did a plan for reconstruction that called for $94 billion from the federal government. So far, our information is only $5 billion has been given to Puerto Rico after the plan called for $94 billion and the $5 billion is a loan. Now that you have admitted that you were part of the problem, the federal government, why don't you at least step up and give Puerto Rico the aide it needs to rebuild. Give them the $94 billion, and give it to them now.
In terms of federal mistakes and federal debacles, Tish James, the New York City Public Advocate, reminded us this morning of Hurricane Katrina, which was in New Orleans. Which was a terrible, terrible debacle of the federal government responding to a terrible storm. Hurricane Katrina, 1,800 people lost their lives. And there's a serious question, how many people needed to lose their lives? How many people died just because of the storm versus the lack of response by the federal government? It's a terrible stain on the federal government, the way they responded to Hurricane Katrina. 1,800 people. The new estimate is 4,500 people died in Puerto Rico. 4,500 compared to 1,800 in Katrina. That puts it in perspective. That's why an apology should be forthcoming and that's why the federal government should now acknowledge its error, acknowledge its responsibility and step up to the plate and do the right thing.
I hope the Puerto Rican community in the United States makes sure that they remind every Congressperson, every U.S. Senator, every elected official of how terrible the federal government was to Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico were treated as second class American citizens. We have a federal government that is very good at dividing people. That's what they do, that is their approach. What they did is they divided Puerto Ricans from Americans. And what they missed was Puerto Ricans are Americans citizens and there are no second class American citizens.
We will continue to push the federal government, but rest assured, your brothers and sisters in New York are with you 100 percent of the way and we are going to continue to walk this road to recovery with you until it's fully done. Thank you.