Trump's response to crisis in Puerto Rico insufficient

U.S. territory receives minimal support from U.S. government and citizens in wake of disaster

The devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria is affecting 3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico. But the humanitarian crisis hasn’t received nearly as much political attention or aid as Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey.

In lieu of offering support or aid, President Trump took to Twitter to tear down the American territory, blaming the island’s inhabitants for their own misfortune.

Trump tweeted that Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was already in “terrible shape.” He added that Puerto Rico owes billions to Wall Street “which sadly, must be dealt with.”

Following the Category 4 storm, most of the island remains without electricity. Only 11 out of 69 hospitals have power. All but 240 of their 1,600 cellphone towers are down after 150 mph winds ravaged the territory. Crops are destroyed and citizens lack access to clean drinking water.

Only 54 percent of Americans realize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, according to a recent poll by The New York Times. It is unclear if Trump is aware of the fact that Puerto Rico is an American territory; he speaks about the crisis as though it were a foreign issue, not a domestic one.

“This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean,” the president said ahead of a meeting with the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

A direct flight from Miami to San Juan is a little over two hours. But the way Trump talks about it, you’d think Puerto Rico was on the other side of the world.

On Tuesday, Trump finally announced that he will visit the island on Oct. 3. He claimed this is the earliest he can go because he didn’t want to disrupt relief efforts. He also increased the amount of recovery funds as part of the announcement. But this response is too little too late for the millions of Puerto Ricans left without power, shelter or water.

The storm hit over a week ago. It should not have taken the president that long to address the crisis. Especially considering he visited Texas and Florida within four days after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit.

A desire to stay out of the way of first responders is an insufficient excuse. He didn’t need to go to the Puerto Rico to increase relief efforts; he could have asked Congress to pass a relief package and allocate more money to FEMA.

While over 2,500 National Guard members are on the ground in Puerto Rico and FEMA has 500 people assisting with relief efforts, this is not nearly enough for an island with a population of over three million. By contrast, 31,000 federal employees were on the ground in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. And over 40,000 federal employees were sent to Florida after Hurricane Irma.

Donations from private citizens and corporations to Hurricane Maria relief efforts are also much lower compared to donations for Irma and Harvey. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Donations for Irma relief efforts totaled $222 million. $157 million was raised in the wake of Harvey. But Maria only received about $8 million donations.

Even the pop star Pitbull has offered support to Puerto Rico. He sent a private plane to transport cancer patients to the U.S. mainland so they could receive chemotherapy treatments. It is a sad state of affairs when a celebrity is doing more to help relief efforts after a national disaster than the president.

Puerto Rican citizens are Americans, too. They deserve as much help and support as Texas and Florida have received. It’s time for both the President and ordinary American citizens alike to step up to the plate for our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico.