As parts of Puerto Rico continue to struggle to recover four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officially announced it will shut off food and water aid to the island as of Jan. 31.
A third of Puerto Rico residents are still without electricity and lack access to potable water four months after the Category 4 hurricane hit, according to EcoWatch.
“There are some municipalities that may not need the help anymore, because they’ve got nearly 100 percent of their energy and water back,” Mayor Carmen Maldonado of Morovis said in an interview with NPR. “Ours is not so lucky.”
But FEMA says that the financial assistance it’s provided to municipalities and residents enabled them to “go back to the normal economy,” therefore the agency needs to “create a balance” so it doesn’t affect the island’s economy.
“The reality is that we just need to look around,” Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA’s director in Puerto Rico, said in an interview with NPR. “Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal. If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy.”
Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz from San Juan rebutted the decision of FEMA tweeting, “This is the kind of indifference that must be stopped. Enough.”
Cruz, who is an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, is very “taken back” by the decision and is disappointed with the relief efforts of FEMA in Puerto Rico.
On Tuesday, FEMA “clarified” its official statement saying it will “still provide supplies to volunteer organizations and nonprofits in rural areas,” according to EcoWatch.
Eileen Lainez, FEMA’s deputy director of public affairs, posted on Tuesday to Twitter:
Our support to Puerto Rico’s recovery continues. The commercial supply chain for food/water is available. However, @FEMA will continue to support documented needs that Puerto Rico identifies, & we’re providing supplies to voluntary agencies/nonprofits for those in rural areas.
— Eileen Lainez (@FEMAspox) January 30, 2018
But after much backlash from both Democrats and Republicans as well as the government of Puerto Rico, FEMA released a new statement on Wednesday claiming the agency would “continue to support the Government of Puerto Rico to meet the needs they identify,” according to NPR. The agency also said in the statement that it will not order new food and water supplies, instead it will continue to disburse from the inventory that already exists, which it is confident will be enough for the island’s remaining needs.
“Provision of those commodities will continue,” William Booher, a spokesman for FEMA said.
Booher went on to say that the previously stated date — Jan. 31 — “was mistakenly provided.”
We will continue our support to #PuertoRico from response to recovery. We have millions of liters of food/water stored in warehouses across the island, which we are continuing to provide to voluntary organizations / local officials who need them in their communities. pic.twitter.com/I0yhsksrHv
— FEMA (@fema) January 31, 2018
According to NPR, FEMA provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and upwards of 60 million meals to residents after the natural disaster. The agency also gave $500 million in public assistance to date and provided $3.2 million in unemployment aid to residents who lost their jobs because of the storm.
Including FEMA, many other volunteer organizations are still on the ground helping the island and its residents rebuild after the devastation.
“AmeriCorps members are still on the ground in Puerto Rico helping families affected by #HurricaneMaria,” AmeriCorps tweeted on Monday.