Pallone tours Puerto Rico, says it needs $100 billion for restoration

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Perth Amboy has a population of 51,000 residents, 12,000 of whom are of Puerto Rican descent. The town itself is nearly 80 percent Hispanic. Rep. Frank Pallone visited on Monday to report on his weekend trip to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Pallone is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ten members of that committee toured the islands Saturday and Sunday.

“Wherever you went, in the mountains, in the valleys, all you saw was destruction,” said Pallone.

They saw it on the ground and from the air. The blue tarps on rooftops mean the roofs were blown off and haven’t been replaced yet.

Pallone asked a roomful of people to recall when the Perth Amboy waterfront was demolished by Superstorm Sandy. Power for them was out for a week or two. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said, has a recovery plan for Puerto Rico with an upbeat description of restoring full power there by May of next year.

“In the case of Sandy, what? Maybe two weeks where most people were back and we’re talking about May? Imagine, it was hard enough, it was two weeks that I went without power at my house in Long Branch. I can’t imagine that if I had to go until May,” said Pallone.

Pallone said President Trump signed an emergency appropriation of $36 billion in October for hurricane recovery in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The administration has asked for another $44 billion. Pallone said another $100 billion is needed for Puerto Rico alone.

Perth Amboy Mayor, Wilda Diaz accused the Trump Administration of treating Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens.

“I am the daughter of a Puerto Rican family. I am insulted and embarrassed at how Puerto Rico has been treated. They have been treated differently. Because they’re on an island, they’re surrounded by water, as the president said, but he forgot to say that they’re surrounded by barracudas, sharks, and on the island, they also have snakes. How they have been treated has been disheartening.”

The city sent seven shipping containers of food to the island totaling 100 tons, and 100 families who fled Puerto Rico, have settled here. The city says it is helping them as best it can. One woman said her family came because one of the sons needs intensive speech therapy and Puerto Rican schools are mainly closed.

Yvonne Lopez will soon represent her native Perth Amboy in the state Assembly.

“I’m worried, worried about our families in Puerto Rico, worried about their mental health, worried about food, worried about the lack of housing, worried about the lack of jobs,” she said.

Pallone’s trip this weekend clearly left an impression on him. He said he was glad to see the media still interested in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and hopes that doesn’t disappear come the new year.