Murphy: Senate Should Hold Hearings On Puerto Rico's Schools, Hospitals

Hartford Courant

Sen. Chris Murphy is calling for congressional hearings to learn how the public health and education infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is faring more than three months after the region was slammed by Hurricane Maria.

“Hearings could help ensure that the Senate has a detailed understanding of the health and education challenges facing” the two U.S. territories, Murphy and eight of his colleagues on the Senate’s health and education committee wrote in a recent letter to the committee’s Republican chairman.

Thursday marked 100 days since the powerful Sept. 20 storm left most of Puerto Rico without electricity. Half of the island is still without power.

The Washington Post recently reported that the Army Corps of Engineers estimates full power restoration won’t happen until May.

In their letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Murphy and the other senators cited multiple reports that said damage from the storm’s powerful winds and the prolonged power outages had wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico’s educational system. As many as 20 percent of the schools on the island were not expected to reopen.

“Of the schools that have re-opened, some are still filled with debris and have no running water or electricity,” the senators wrote.

School districts in Connecticut and other regions of the country with substantial Puerto Rican populations have experienced an influx of new students who escaped the hurricane-ravaged islands with their families.

As of early November, more than 600 schoolchildren from Puerto Rico had arrived in Connecticut and enrolled in school here, according to state officials, and that number continues to grow.

The federal government said through Dec. 15, 507 families arrived in Connecticut through a FEMA program to relocate evacuees from distressed areas. Officials estimate more than 1,000 people in Hartford alone have sought help in a local office for hurricane relief.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited with some of the displaced families who were staying in a Hartford hotel last week. He said federal funds to help the families were expected to run out in mid-January.

Another concern, also driven by the difficulty restoring power to Puerto Rico, has been the ability of residents and medical facilities to store medications that require refrigeration.

Americares, a disaster relief organization based in Stamford, has been steadily delivering shipments of medicine to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since Maria struck.

“Our response teams continue work in Dominica and Puerto Rico, delivering supplies, providing aid with mobile medical units and working to meet needs in health facilities and communities struggling to re-establish basic services,” the agency said in an update on its efforts last week.