OPED: Perry hypocritical on Puerto Rico relief

Mary Barnes
Springfield Township

I just heard an update on the status of Puerto Rico, which triggered reminders of Rep. Scott Perry’s interview on CNN after the Hurricane Maria hit. ”What does success look like,” he asked. “If water gets there five minutes late, is that a crisis?”

And, in response to CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo, Perry said, “Mr. Cuomo, you’re making this stuff up. If half the country didn’t have food and water, those people would be dying and they’re not.”

Puerto Rico is not a country. It has been a U.S. Territory since 1898 and “those people” are fellow American citizens — 3.4 million of them. Because of Maria, over 200,000 have left the island and as a result families have been torn apart. Puerto Rico is still in a state of emergency over three months since the hurricane.

As of this moment, only 55 percent of the island has electricity and for many, there is still no potable tap water. People are also still waiting for tarps and temporary roofs to shelter them as untold numbers of homes were destroyed. Studies now show over 500 more people than usual died in the first 10 days after Maria hit and 1052 more people have died this year compared to the same time period in 2016. Perry called the assertion that Texas and Florida were more attended to than Puerto Rico “ridiculous and insulting.”

Unfortunately, it appears to be true. Fewer personnel were sent to Puerto Rico. Food stamp caps already in place in Puerto Rico limited the amount of immediate disaster aid compared with Texas and Florida. Grassroots donations to Texas and Florida completely dwarfed those made to Puerto Rico. It got a third of the media coverage the other places got. And adding insult to injury, Congress is demanding a 20 percent import tax on Puerto Rican products even though it is a U.S. Territory. The island is already $72 billion in debt.

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I am also reminded Perry voted against a hurricane relief bill in the fall, one of only 69 House members to do so. His excuse is laughably hypocritical as we compare his recent involvement with the federal tax bill to that of Puerto Rico’s catastrophe. He said about his veto, “We must make decisions of this magnitude in an open and transparent manner.

Really? Blindly dispersing tens of billions of dollars without public debate (there was none for the tax bill) and tacking on unrelated items for political expediency (such as the elimination of individual ACA mandates) is not only wrong, it’s not effective or fair to anyone. And that’s what Perry supported.

There are some in Congress who are proposing a sort of Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico that will include building a resilient and renewable energy grid as well as giving major help with debt relief which is necessary if Puerto Rico is to survive. Let’s hope (but not hold our breath) that Perry engages in an open and transparent way and leaves the hypocrisy and hardheartedness behind.

— Mary Barnes is a resident of Springfield Township.