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FEMA to end hurricane-related food, water aid for Puerto Rico

By
Sara Shayanian
Residents of Jayuga, Puerto Rico, unload food and water from a HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on October 4, 2017, as part of relief efforts to support FEMA in the recovery process following Hurricane Maria. Photo by Staff Sgt. Pablo Piedra/U.S. Army/UPI
Residents of Jayuga, Puerto Rico, unload food and water from a HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on October 4, 2017, as part of relief efforts to support FEMA in the recovery process following Hurricane Maria. Photo by Staff Sgt. Pablo Piedra/U.S. Army/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency will end free food and water aid to Puerto Rico as supermarkets are now set to reopen, four months after Hurricane Maria.

FEMA will "officially shut off" its emergency humanitarian aid for the island on Wednesday after providing more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals following the storm.

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The agency gave the food and water supplies to 78 mayors of the island, who directed staffs to hand them out them at distribution centers and by going door-to-door.

"The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal," Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA's director in Puerto Rico, told NPR.

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FEMA said it's provided up to $500 million in public assistance to date, with an additional $3.2 million to help with unemployment stemming from Maria.

"If we're giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy," De La Campa said. "It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we're providing to families and the municipalities, they're able to go back to the normal economy."

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Many Puerto Ricans feel the aid is being cut too soon.

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Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado said around 10,000 of her 30,000 residents are still receiving food and water aid.

"There are some municipalities that may not need the help anymore, because they've got nearly 100 percent of their energy and water back," Maldonado said. "Ours is not so lucky."

Maldonado said FEMA's aid is critical to residents, as much of the money they would have normally used to buy food is instead being used to buy fuel.

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About 450,000 of the island's 1.5 million electricity customers are still without power -- and those who do have electricity experience frequent blackouts.

"This is all something that FEMA should contemplate before eliminating its delivery of these supplies," Maldonado said.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced she would invite San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as a guest to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"I hope Mayor Cruz's presence at #SOTU will remind the president and my colleagues in Congress of our urgent responsibility to help Puerto Rico fully recover and rebuild," Gillibrand tweeted Monday. "Our fellow citizens must not be forgotten or left behind."

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Cruz has been critical of Trump in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria -- even calling him the "Hater in Chief." Trump fired back, saying the San Juan mayor showed "poor leadership ability."

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