EDITORIAL: Help your fellow citizens rise in Puerto Rico

The York Dispatch
  • The poll found more than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid.
  • Only 4 in 10 who do not who do not understand the relationship support the assistance.
  • While federal lawmakers drag their feet, everyday Americans are stepping up to help fellow citizens.

Almost half of all Americans don’t realize Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens.

A Morning Consult poll taken in September just days after Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island found only 54 percent of Americans understand Puerto Ricans are fellow U.S. citizens.

Younger Americans are less likely to know this (just 37 percent), as are those without a college degree (47 percent).

Perhaps that would explain why, more than three months after the hurricane, about half of the island still does not have electricity, as The New York Times reported recently.

ESOL specialist Jacob Fox, of York Tech, serves pieces of flan as the York City Hispanic Center, Centro Hispano Jose Hernandez, kicks off its 21 Days of Giving for Puerto Rico campaign, Puerto Rico Se Levanta, in collaboration with York CIty and the York County School of Technology at Central Market in York City, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. The flan was donated for the event by campaign partner Mi Caldero of  York City. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The lack of power “has hobbled business in an already-weak economy and left people’s lives at risk in hospitals or senior complexes without power,” the newspaper reported Dec. 29. “A New York Times analysis found the death rate rose considerably on the island after the hurricane passed and the outages became part of life.”

The lack of understanding about the common bond shared between, say, a Pennsylvanian and a Puerto Rican is important, the Times noted, “because Americans often support cuts to foreign aid when asked to evaluate spending priorities.”

The poll found more than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid, compared with only 4 in 10 of those who do not, according to the Times.

An $81 billion relief package that would help Puerto Rico, as well as gulf states hammered by last season’s hurricanes, was approved by the House in December, but the Senate left D.C. for the holidays without acting on it. Republicans say the bill now will likely be tied to an overall government funding bill that must be passed by Jan. 19.

The thinking seems to be, “What’s a few more weeks …?”

For starters, a few more weeks could mean the difference between life and death for someone without electricity, hot meals or access to health care.

It’s unacceptable for Puerto Ricans, just as it’s unacceptable for other U.S. citizens.

“If this were happening in Connecticut, there would be riots in the streets,” Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut who returned last week from a tour of Puerto Rico, told The Connecticut Mirror.

Thankfully, while federal lawmakers are dragging their feet, everyday Americans are taking it upon themselves to help their fellow citizens.

Here at home, a countywide effort dubbed “Puerto Rico Se Levanta,” or “Puerto Rico Rises,” began last week to collect money and supplies for the island’s residents.

More:York County fundraiser for Puerto Rico starts Friday

The 21-day effort is spearheaded by officials at Centro Hispano Jose Hernandez, the York City Bureau of Health and the York County School of Technology.

The goal is to collect nonperishable food items, clothes and shoes, non-liquid toiletries, baby items, camping supplies, pet supplies and feminine hygiene products, according to organizers.

So far, more than a dozen York County businesses, churches and organizations have partnered with Puerto Rico Se Levanta to provide products and services for the drive as well as serving as collection sites for residents to drop off items or donate money.

Similar grassroots efforts are happening across the country.

“All the things we’re doing is to let (Puerto Ricans know) that they’re not forgotten,” said Delma Rivera, one of the organizers of the campaign.

That is the American way — taking care of our own.

If only Congress felt the same way.