Menendez, Velázquez Lead Bicameral Effort Calling on Federal Agencies to Increase Staff and Review All Resources in Spanish as Puerto Rico Recovers from Hurricane Fiona – Senator Menendez

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – As Puerto Rico begins the process of rebuilding and recovering from the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona last month, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.-07) are leading a bicameral effort urging the Biden Administration instruct federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA) the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as others, to ensure all applications for assistance and resources are correctly translated in Spanish and make available adequate Spanish-speaking employees. 
 
“The United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that found language access was a significant issue in accessing federal assistance for survivors of both Hurricanes Maria and Harvey,” wrote the lawmakers to President Biden. “In Puerto Rico, FEMA did not have enough Spanish-speaking employees to accommodate the Island, leading to delays in aid. The Commission also received testimony that even after documents had been translated into Spanish, they were often inaccurate and confusing. While some improvements have been made on this issue, we urge your administration to review all Spanish documents and resources for accuracy, especially in light of the recent hurricanes.”
 
The lawmakers are also urging the Biden Administration to establish Disaster Recovery Centers in additional municipalities on the island to ensure equitable access to federal resources and services.
 
“DRCs are critical in helping survivors access disaster assistance programs, understand written correspondence, and learn of federal grant opportunities to make their homes more resilient,” added the lawmakers. “Many residents currently do not have electricity to have an internet connection. Others may lack the computer technology to access the internet. Furthermore, almost a quarter of the Puerto Rican population is over the age of 65, and may have limited, if any, computer literacy. With internet accessibility being a potential issue, establishing more DRCs will help ensure a more equitable recovery of the island. We also ask you prioritize increasing fluent Spanish-speaking staff to provide residents with comprehensive and timely assistance.”
 
Joining Sen. Menendez and Rep. Velázquez in signing the letter were Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.-13), Darren Soto (D-Fla.-09), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.-15), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Albio Sires (D-N.J.-08), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas-20), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40), and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-51), and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.-03).
 
Find the letter HERE and below.
 
 
Dear President Biden,
 
As Puerto Rico looks to rebuild and recover from Hurricane Fiona’s devastation, we are concerned about the accessibility and availability of federal relief applications, documentation, and other materials in Spanish. We request you ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration (SBA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other federal entities make all resources available, accessible, and correctly translated in Spanish. In addition, we strongly urge FEMA to expeditiously establish Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) in additional municipalities in Puerto Rico. 
 
The United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that found language access was a significant issue in accessing federal assistance for survivors of both Hurricanes Maria and Harvey.[1] In Puerto Rico, FEMA did not have enough Spanish-speaking employees to accommodate the Island, leading to delays in aid. The Commission also received testimony that even after documents had been translated into Spanish, they were often inaccurate and confusing. While some improvements have been made on this issue, we urge your administration to review all Spanish documents and resources for accuracy, especially in light of the recent hurricanes. We also ask you prioritize increasing fluent Spanish-speaking staff to provide residents with comprehensive and timely assistance.
 
In addition, we request that you direct FEMA to quickly establish additional Disaster Recovery Centers across multiple municipalities on the island. DRCs are critical in helping survivors access disaster assistance programs, understand written correspondence, and learn of federal grant opportunities to make their homes more resilient. Many residents currently do not have electricity to have an internet connection. Others may lack the computer technology to access the internet. Furthermore, almost a quarter of the Puerto Rican population is over the age of 65, and may have limited, if any, computer literacy.[2] With internet accessibility being a potential issue, establishing more DRCs will help ensure a more equitable recovery of the island.
 
Given the damaged infrastructure across the Island, we urge you to promptly ensure FEMA, USDA, SBA, and all other relevant federal agencies make their resources and applications comprehensive and available in Spanish, and establish more physical centers throughout the Island for those who lack internet resources. Thank you for your consideration of these requests.
 
Sincerely,
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