Andrew Cuomo on what New York and all America owe Puerto Rico – New York Daily News

As Hurricane Fiona devastated Puerto Rico this weekend, many New Yorkers spent the night frightened and frantically trying to reach their families and friends 1,600 miles away. Sadly, this has become a familiar routine due to decades of neglect and lack of investment by a federal government seemingly allergic to following through for our fellow Americans.
Sunday night, the island was slammed with nearly 30 inches of rain. Hitting the electricity grid, the storm plunged all of Puerto Rico into darkness. Power is in the process of being restored, but this triggered painful memories of what happened when Hurricane Maria touched land in 2017 or Hurricane Irma shortly before that, or Tropical Storm Erika a few years before that.
As governor, I was very aggressive in helping Puerto Rico and in turn, New Yorkers opened their hearts and wallets to help our brothers and sisters in their time of need. This is not surprising as New York City is home to more Puerto Ricans than any place outside Puerto Rico.
They are part of our community, our neighbors and our brothers and sisters.
Downed power lines on road PR-743 in Cayey ,Puerto Rico as the island awoke to a general power outage on September 19, 2022 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
Mother Nature has been harsh to Puerto Rico, there is no doubt. But our federal government has also been harsh to Puerto Rico, and that is something that must be remedied. After Maria, then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intelligently used the moment to build back better. Much like New York after Superstorm Sandy, the goal was not to replace what was, but to seize the opportunity to renew and modernize.
New York’s advocacy was helpful in securing a federal aid package of approximately $42.5 billion.
A key element of the plan was to transform Puerto Rico’s electric power grid with state-of-the-art modern grid technologies. The power system in Puerto Rico has long been outdated and in need of replacement. Using what we learned from recovering from Sandy, we proudly worked with our counterparts in the Puerto Rican government to develop a solid, reality-based plan that was to be funded with federal recovery aid.
That was five years ago.
One may ask, what has happened since in terms of actual progress? The answer: very little. The federal government has been bureaucratic and painfully slow in actually administering the funding. Every few months, a federal agency will visit Puerto Rico and issue a press release announcing incremental progress. The federal administration has working groups, and congressional members issue their own press releases supporting Puerto Rico. And, of course, they never hesitate to offer thoughts and prayers.
But the bottom line is that very little progress has actually been made. The rebuilding plan sits on the shelf, the money is tied up in the federal bureaucracy and on the ground in Puerto Rico, the situation is basically the status quo. Under Trump, no significant aid went out the door. Biden reversed that policy, but practically speaking, very little of this aid has reached the island. There is a real lack of urgency, as Sunday’s devastation proved.
This phenomenon is not unique to Puerto Rico. Our federal government tends to focus on the crisis of the moment. Follow-up almost always fades.
Federal officials see a press release as progress. It’s not. Progress is actually getting something done — achieving results, which is much more difficult than rhetoric.
Let us use this current crisis as a reminder of the forgotten promises made to Puerto Rico. The White House and Congress should demand to know why so little has actually been done even though funding is not an issue.
Even if the recovery and restoration are quicker than the last storm, we are still using the grid from the last storm and the next storm is still coming — only Mother Nature knows how bad it will be.
Puerto Rico should be a showcase for the federal government to demonstrate that it is still capable of making a difference. This is not to say that the Puerto Rican government doesn’t share the blame. There have been government disruptions and complaints of corruption. They must likewise commit themselves to expediting performance.
Any major project that is undertaken poses many obstacles. It is the nature of change. Building a new LaGuardia and JFK airport, opening the Second Ave. subway, the new Tappan Zee Bridge, building the Long Island arena, hardening our own power grid after Sandy — all posed seemingly insurmountable challenges at the time; but that is the art form of government.
Let’s seize the day and commit ourselves to the proposition that this will be the last storm to hit Puerto Rico before the modernization and infrastructure is completed. Compassionate leadership is empathy in action.
Yes, we offer Puerto Rico our thoughts and prayers, but even more, we should offer Puerto Rico capacity and progress.
Cuomo was the 56th governor of New York and a former secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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