FEMA has failed Puerto Rico in unimaginable ways, but this is the worst one yet
The Federal Emergency Management Agency hired a company to bring 30 million meals to Puerto Rico, of which only 50,000 arrived.
In the middle of a devastating crisis after the passage of Hurricane Maria, the island of Puerto Rico is still waiting for the Trump Administration to show signs of concern or even recognition of the territory as a federal dependency.
The category-4 storm that hit the island has left "total devastation," local government spokesman Carlos Mercader told CNN. "Puerto Rico will not be the same in terms of infrastructure, it is something of historical proportions".
With winds of 155 miles per hour, Maria became the worst storm in 85 years recorded in the territory when she hit land on September 20, 2017.
The damage is immeasurable.
According to the TIME magazine report, more than a third of Puerto Rican households (around one million people) still don’t have access to potable water, less than 20% of the island has recovered the electrical wiring and the ports they have not resumed their work 100%, which keeps the population isolated in the middle of the disaster.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has distributed 23.6 million liters of water (6.2 million gallons), this only supplies 9% of the population's requirements, triggering an important health crisis on the island.
Around 86% of food businesses have managed to open their doors despite the lack of provisions to fill them. That is why Puerto Ricans relied heavily on FEMA shipments to feed their population.
But on Tuesday, the New York Times published the news that the Agency had closed an inexplicable contract with "a tiny one-woman firm" to distribute 30 million meals to the island, of which only 5,000 were delivered.
The contract would have been for the sum of $156 million in the name of Tribute Contracting LLC whose owner, Tiffany Brown, did not comply with the packaging requirements for which the contract was rescinded.
"It is difficult to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this small company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract," said representatives Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) And Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands).
Both representatives wrote a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman the chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (RS.C.), asking him to issue a court order to FEMA to deliver all documents "relating to its failure to provide tens of millions of emergency meals to the victims of Puerto Rico”, as reported by CNBC.
For the representatives, this would be a continuation of the "numerous examples of disastrous contracting decisions by agencies that selected the lowest bidder".
According to the Times report, Brown "has no experience in large-scale disaster relief." However, as Brown herself explained to the House Committee team, she won the contract with FEMA for having offered "the lowest cost" in her services.
For its part, a spokeswoman for FEMA told CNBC that, "While it would be inappropriate to comment on the pending appeal with the contractor in question, FEMA continues to provide meals to survivors in Puerto Rico."
But the numbers and reality of Puerto Ricans are very different, especially after the apparent oblivion to which the White House has subjected them.
For the Democratic representative of Florida, Darren Soto, the concern is broader with respect to "a troubling reoccurring pattern with FEMA’s oversight of contracting procedures, from repairing the island’s electrical grid to delaying food delivery assistance".
"It shows clear wrongdoing and inadequate preparation by the Trump Administration to respond to disasters," Soto continued in an interview with NBC News.
Also, Representative Nydia Velázquez (DN.Y.), a native of Puerto Rico, issued a statement in which she stated: "this is the last example of how the Trump administration has repeatedly failed the people of Puerto Rico and bungled its response to this historic disaster. "
"The fact is that this administration has let down 3.3 million American citizens as they suffer through a humanitarian crisis," said Velázquez.