Rep. Boyle joins push for better disaster death count procedures
To avoid another death toll undercount as dramatic as what multiple studies are showing has happened in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, three Democratic representatives have introduced legislation to put in place more accurate measurements for future disasters.
This week, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania's 13th district joined Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez and Senator Kamala D. Harris in introducing a bill in both chambers that would seek to avoid the ambiguity that has surrounded the final death toll from Hurricane Maria to be repeated in the event of other natural disasters.
The Counting Our Unexpected Natural Tragedies (COUNT) Victims Act is designed to ensure an accurate death toll in the event of natural disasters so that adequate federal aid and resources are allocated.
Of course, some would point out that in the case of Puerto Rico, the death toll would have been much lower had adequate federal aid and resources been made available to the island, proportional to what was already known about the devastation wrought by the storm.
As indicated by a Harvard report published in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of May that found that there were at least 4,645 deaths resulting from Hurricane Maria, the actual death count could be up to more than 70 times the official death count of 64 that has been recorded by the Puerto Rican and U.S. governments.
"The grossly inaccurate death count from Hurricane Maria’s decimation of Puerto Rico is the ultimate disrespect and culminating offense in the parade of errors, mismanagement, and careless indifference displayed by the Trump Administration during its response to this humanitarian crisis, or lack thereof,” said Boyle in a press release from his office published on Monday.
“It is beyond unacceptable in the United States of America. I am proud to stand with Congresswoman Velázquez and Senator Harris to introduce common sense legislation to make sure we do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again. I only wish we could go back in time to correct this wrong this time,” he stated.
The objective of the COUNT Act would be to allocate approximately $2 million to fund a collaboration between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Academy of Medicine to produce a standard procedure to best measure deaths caused by disasters, and have that procedure applied across all U.S. states and territories.
In the Senate, the legislation was cosponsored by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Nelson (D-FL), Gillibrand (D-NY), Warren (D-MA), Markey (D-MA), Menendez (D-NJ), and Carper (D-DE). In the House, the bill was cosponsored by Reps. Boyle (D-PA), Grijalva (D-AZ), Serrano (D-NY) and Thompson (D-MS).
“Nobody rebuilding his or her life after a natural disaster should suffer the negligence we’ve seen in Puerto Rico,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “Too many Puerto Rican families are suffering additional burdens today because officials won’t acknowledge their loved ones’ deaths. This bill is a necessary step in understanding and confronting the real impacts of these tragedies. We cannot hope for a competent response to future disasters, on Puerto Rico or elsewhere, if the administration won’t even acknowledge their real human costs.”