The role of business in Puerto Rico’s recovery
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In the absence of a comprehensive aid package by the federal government, the American business community can escalate its aid efforts and play a crucial role in rebuilding Puerto Rico.  

Two months ago this week, Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico. The results were catastrophic: 472,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and much of the island was reduced to an uninhabitable state. More than half of the island, a home to 3.4 million people, is still without power, and clean running water has yet to be fully restored.

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Had a storm of this magnitude destroyed cities and portions of the mainland United States, and two months later, basic services had not been restored to a majority of those affected, Americans would be up in arms. Members of Congress would be calling for hearings.

Instead, our fellow Americans’ dire requests for aid have mostly fallen on deaf ears. On Nov. 13, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló traveled to Capitol Hill and requested $94.4 billion from Congress to help Puerto Rico “build back better.” The administration’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has been unmotivated. In degrading the mayor of San Juan and engaging in personal and political disputes, President Trump and his administration have missed the opportunity to sympathize with and support Puerto Rico, an island with more U.S. citizens than 21 states.

It is the duty of the president to protect and provide for the citizens he represents. Disaster relief should not be a partisan issue—we hope to see no more twitter feuds and no more threats that “aid won’t last forever.” We look to the president for a serious commitment to the restoration of quality of life on the island. The people of Puerto Rico are American Citizens and deserve to be treated as such.

Due to the lackluster relief efforts of the federal government, it is time for the private sector to escalate their relief efforts. Not only can American businesses pressure the federal government to fulfil its duties to the Americans in Puerto Rico, they can play a significant role in relief and recovery efforts by making contributions to aid in the recovery of Puerto Rico.

Providing a comprehensive aid package to Puerto Rico is more than a strategically smart decision; it is our moral obligation. For decades, the American business community has been investing in Puerto Rico. With a GDP higher than 25 percent of U.S. states, Puerto Rico’s economic contribution cannot be ignored. To put it simply, without Puerto Rico, the U.S. economy will fall far short of its full potential.

At the USHCC, we believe that we can play a role in moments like these as conveners, unifying the power of our over 200 local chambers and 260 corporate partners to do good. It was for that reason that we launched a fundraiser for Puerto Rico during our National Convention in Dallas, Texas and raised over $35,000 in pledges over the course of the evening.

USHCC members have also been doing their part. Goya Foods has donated close to a million pounds of food to people of Puerto Rico. Similarly, BP donated 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel to assist with recovery efforts. Wells Fargo has donated $450,000 to Puerto Rico to assist with both emergency responder and long-term rebuilding efforts. Last but certainly not least, Verizon has donated $5,000,000 to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We want to continue highlighting the great work our corporate partners are doing, as well continuing to work with them to ensure the people of Puerto Rico receive the aid they need.

The U.S. economy needs the hardworking people of Puerto Rico, and the federal government must become an honest stakeholder in the rebuilding effort. Americans always step up to help each other in times of crisis. In the coming months and years, we must constantly remember the people of Puerto Rico are just as deserving of aid as citizens on the mainland. Puerto Rican business is American business, and by involving our private sector in the relief and recovery efforts, we can create a comprehensive strategy to get Puerto Rico back on its feet.   

Javier Palomarez (@JPalomarez) is the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.