Rutgers professor says Puerto Rico needs to find its own way
A Rutgers University-Camden professor, recently returned from a fact-finding mission to storm-devastated Puerto Rico, says the federal government has failed the island. But moving forward, Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago says the island must find its own way.
The storm hit the U.S. territory on Sept. 20 and caused the worst devastation on record there.
Bonilla-Santiago says a lot has been made about the deep psychological impact of the devastation from Hurricane Maria. But she says a lot of people just need electricity to help them recover.
"They are saying, 'You give us electricity, we can make anything happen.' And what is more worrisome is all those people who lost jobs."
She says a lot of them have mortgage loan moratoriums, and those moratoriums have ended, which means that home owners are not going to be able to make payments and will lose their houses.
"So the desperation in Puerto Rico is growing," she said.
The professor serves on the board of The Center for Puerto Rico a nonprofit supporting recovery efforts.
She says the loss of almost $5 million in federal disaster aid to the island was a big blow.
"In the meantime, you have a major situation that happens in the middle of all of this. Earlier this month, FEMA informed the Puerto Rican government that they are going to withhold $4.9 million in pre-approved disaster loans because Puerto Rico is low on cash."
But she says the people of Puerto Rico have talent, resiliency and faith, and you see that emerging.
"So in my mind right now, the message to Puerto Rico is that we are alone. Puerto Ricans, more than ever, need to confront that serious reality, and you know, like my father used to say, we need to tighten our belts because the ride is going to be very turbulent."
Bonilla-Santiago will host a panel discussion March 30 with San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz Soto.
Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5