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Ongoing Hurricane Aid Neglect Drives Historic Puerto Rican Migration

A second-class aid and recovery effort by the U.S. federal government is forcing hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to flee the American Caribbean colony devastated by Hurricane Maria and exercise their right as U.S. citizens to resettle, realigning demographics in popular destinations like Florida and New York City.

“Florida alone has received more than 230,000 Puerto Ricans since the September 20 hurricane,” the New York Times reports, “and experts predict that the outflow to places like New York and Pennsylvania could increase by more than 300,000 in the next two years.”

Such a migration had been predicted, when aid from the U.S. mainland was slow to arrive in the immediate wake of the storm. It has materialized, the Times writes, as those efforts have continued to be insufficient and, in some cases, withdrawn, and the future for Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people darkens even further.

“A double standard was quickly clear after the storm when a federal cap on Puerto Rico’s food stamps limited the amount of emergency food aid” to the island territory, the paper observes. “Texas and Florida had no such restraints after their hurricanes.”

The United States also covers far less of the cost of Medicaid—the American system for providing health care to the poor and disabled—for its Puerto Rican citizens than for those on the mainland.

Stung by strong criticism over its slow response to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe, the Trump administration dawdled before relaxing a rule that forces up the cost of shipping reconstruction supplies to the island, then reinstated it within days.

As of last week, the Times reports, “only about 60% of Puerto Rico’s power had been restored. The island is suffering the longest blackout in United States history.”

As if to reinforce the territory’s grim reality, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló said his government was reevaluating the official Hurricane Maria death toll of 64. Unofficial estimates have put deaths due to shortages of medical care, food, and safe water at well over 1,000.

“Reeling under US$74 billion in debt even before the hurricane hit,” the Times now says, Puerto Rico’s “news tends to get worse, not better.”

Federal U.S. tax reforms could add to the island’s troubles by designating it a “foreign jurisdiction,” the Times adds, subjecting its products sold on the American mainland “to a devastating new 20% import tax.” The measure would drive more business flight and cost tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans their livelihoods.

Small wonder that, as the Times reports, “the exodus continues”.