FEMA to ‘officially shut off’ food and water aid to Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Tuesday that it will end free supplies of food and water in Puerto Rico this week as the island's supermarkets and other businesses reopen following Hurricane Maria.

NPR reported Tuesday that FEMA will "officially shut off" aid to the island on Wednesday after providing more than 30 million gallons of drinking water and 60 million meals to its inhabitants.

"The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal," FEMA Puerto Rico director Alejandro De La Campa told NPR.

ADVERTISEMENT
Not all of Puerto Rico's government officials agree with the agency's decision to end aid this week. Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado told NPR that in her town, the number of customers without power restored to their homes is close to 80 percent and that most residents can't afford the cost of a generator.

"There are some municipalities that may not need the help anymore, because they've got nearly 100 percent of their energy and water back," she said. "Ours is not so lucky."

"This is all something that FEMA should contemplate before eliminating its delivery of these supplies," the mayor added.

De La Campa addressed the need for families to go back to supermarkets and boost the Puerto Rican economy.

"If we're giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy," he added. "It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we're providing to families and the municipalities, they're able to go back to the normal economy."

Statistics from Puerto Rico's government claim that power has been restored to about 80 percent of the island, while fresh water has been restored to 96 percent of the territory's residents.

In November, the island's top emergency management official resigned over the slow response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which devastated the island last year and left millions without power and drinking water.

In a statement to The Hill, FEMA's public affairs director William Booher clarified that the agency would continue to assist volunteer agencies and nonprofits with relief efforts in rural areas of Puerto Rico, as well as the territory's government.

"FEMA will continue to support any documented needs and will provide supplies to volunteer agencies and other private nonprofit organizations who are working with households in rural, outlying areas to address ongoing disaster-related needs as power and water is gradually restored," Booher said.

"The commercial supply chain for food and water is re-established and private suppliers are sufficiently available that FEMA provided commodities are no longer needed for emergency operations."

Updated at 11:08 a.m.