NEWARK - Some leaders of New Jersey’s large Puerto Rican community are demanding the U.S. government take immediate action to assist the thousands of American citizens affected by the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the island on Jan. 7, the hundreds of powerful aftershocks that continue to rattle the island, and the delayed recovery from Hurricane Maria. New Jersey is home to the third-largest Puerto Rican population on the U.S. mainland. 

While President Trump declared an emergency following the Jan. 7 earthquake and the ensuing aftershocks that destroyed homes, schools and critical infrastructure in the southern part of the island, it wasn’t until after growing pressure from elected officials,leaders and advocates, that a Major Disaster Declaration was signed to unlock all of FEMA’s programming and assistance to the communities most in need.

The contingent of Puerto Rican officials contend the federal government continues to block $18.5 billion in federal disaster aid appropriated by Congress in February 2018 to help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. The failure to provide the necessary assistance has delayed Puerto Rico’s recovery and weakened the island’s ability to withstand the earthquakes, worsening their impact on individuals and property.

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“Once again we see how President Trump’s indifference and disdain towards U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico is exacerbating a crisis originated by a natural disaster,” said Sen. Bob Menendez. “By refusing for almost two years to disburse more than $18 billion appropriated by Congress in 2018, the Administration is sending a clear message of disregard for thousands of Americans affected by the earthquakes who desperately need assistance. Today, we come together again to demand the Trump Administration show a shred of decency, fairness and compassion to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.” 

Menendez was joined by several leaders in New Jersey’s Puerto Rican community, including: State Senators Teresa Ruiz and Nellie Pou; Newark Councilmen Luis Quintana, Carlos Gonzalez and Anibal Ramos; Paterson Councilman Luis Velez; Newark Schools Superintendent Roger Leon; Newark Housing Authority Exec. Dir. Victor Cirillo; Lissette Morales and Rev. Johnny Escobar Carrasquillo from FOCUS; Julio Garcia from Puertorriquenos Asociados for Community Organization; Ralph Padilla from the Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern N.J.; Josephine Garcia from Newark Puerto Rican Day Parade; George Torres President of the Hispanic Law Enforcement of Newark; Leo Suarez, President of the Roberto Clemente Little of Newark; Luis Maisonave, President of the Hispanic Fire fighters; and Mayttee Cordero fromTainas Unidas. 

Concerns were also echoed by leaders of the non-profit New Jersey for Puerto Rico Relief.

Samuel Delgado of Perth Amboy, chairman of the organization, told TAPInto Newark that "since 2017, New Jersey for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief has evolved into New Jersey for Puerto Rico Relief into order to recognize the new existence  that Puerto Rico finds itself, not only from the disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, but also the actuality of economic and social disruption."

The organization is seeking donations at www.NJ4pr,com, in which donors can send money via the website or in the mail.

"The people of Puerto Rico deserve the resources necessary to rebuild toward a brighter future, after suffering through hurricanes and earthquakes,” said Ruiz, who represents portions of Newark.  “The Trump Administration has subjected United States citizens to dangerous living conditions by unlawfully withholding $18 billion in disaster funding already approved by Congress.  It is time to take action and release the funds to pave a pathway for a stronger future.”

“Puerto Rico needs our help. They need our help—as a nation and as individuals—to pick up the shattered pieces, rebuild the island and heal from the wounds of this relentless series of compounding disasters,” added Pou, Chair of the New Jersey Legislative Latino Caucus. “That is why, my colleagues in the legislature and I are doing everything we can to contribute to Puerto Rico’s recovery and we urge the White House to do the same. This is a major disaster and the sooner it is declared, the faster the funds can be released and the long journey to recovery can begin.”

Friday's press conference was held at FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development, Inc. in Newark.  FOCUS provides adult education, employment training, senior citizen programs, health and nutrition programs as well as assistance to families requiring temporary support such as food, utility and housing assistance.  FOCUS has been at the forefront of providing services to displaced families from Puerto Rico who have relocated to the Newark area.