Maine lawmakers urge aid for hard-hit Puerto Rico

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Speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Maine’s Angus King said the nation has been socked during the past several weeks by repeated hurricanes that have devastated many communities.

King, an independent, said the suffering on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is particularly acute because the U.S. territories are islands where it is more difficult to send aid than on the mainland.

But, he said, there is “clearly a responsibility” among lawmakers and Americans in general “to reach out to our neighbors” to help.

Hurricane Maria slammed into the island on Sept. 20 with high winds and drenching rain, destroying most of its electrical grid, washing out many roads and stripping away vegetation. In its wake, many of the 3.4 million Americans who live there are left without power, water, food and other necessities.

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Some claim the U.S. government is not acting swiftly enough to offer assistance.

Jonathan Fulford, a 2nd District Democratic congressional contender, said “the lack of an adequate response by our federal government” has contributed to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

“These are Americans whose homes and lives are hanging in the balance and Congress must act immediately,” Fulford said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said in a statement on Twitter that “dire circumstances” on the island “require immediate aid to save lives.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, “is urging the White House to use all tools at its disposal to immediately provide aid and support for the millions of Americans and the communities devastated in Puerto Rico,” spokesman Brendan Conley said Wednesday.

Poliquin also “stands ready to act in quickly moving through appropriate legislation to provide the federal government with additional resources they may request,” Conley said.

Maine’s other member of Congress, 1st District Democrat Chellie Pingree, said on Twitter that Congress must send aid immediately, pointing out that the island is without water and power.

She also criticized President Donald Trump for doing too little.

His job, Pingree said, “isn’t to watch cable news and grab ratings. It’s to protect citizens in crisis.”

Fulford said Congress should suspend a legal provision, the World War I-era Jones Act, that prevents foreign ships from carrying products to the island that could help provide relief. Trump told reporters Wednesday that shippers don’t want the restrictions waived and it’s not clear doing so would help.

Fulford said that Congress ought also to look at debt relief for Puerto Rico “so the rebuilding can be successful.”

“I am concerned that the slow and inadequate response by our government will be used as an excuse to further privatize and impoverish Puerto Rico,” Fulford said.

Conley said Poliquin helped pass a measure recently to provide “critical support” for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deal with the hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

King called the repeated storms “truly a malign visitation on our country,” using a phrase that’s appeared occasionally during the past two centuries, usually in describing tropical diseases. An Australian lawmaker described a 1914 drought as a “malign visitation,” though, seemingly using the words in the same vein as the senator. 

King took an optimistic look at how things are playing out in the Caribbean and other areas hit by hurricanes in recent weeks.

“When a crisis hits,” King said, “it often calls forth the best of America. I believe that is happening right now.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King addresses the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

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