Menendez and Velázquez lead bicameral effort calling on federal agencies to increase staffing and review all Spanish-language resources as Puerto Rico recovers from Hurricane Fiona

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JERSEY CITY, NJ – As Puerto Rico begins the process of rebuilding and recovering from the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona last month, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (DN.J.) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (DN.Y.-07 ) are lead a bicameral effort urging the Biden administration to issue instructions to federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and others, to ensure that all requests for assistance and resources are properly translated into Spanish and make available adequate Spanish-speaking employees.

“The United States Civil Rights Commission released a report that found language access was a significant issue in accessing federal assistance for survivors of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey,” wrote lawmakers to President Biden. “In Puerto Rico, FEMA did not have enough Spanish-speaking staff to accommodate the island, which led to delays in aid. The Commission also received testimonies that even after the documents were translated into Spanish, they were often inaccurate and confusing. Although some improvements have been made to this issue, we urge your administration to review all Spanish documents and resources for accuracy, especially in light of the recent hurricanes.

Lawmakers are also urging the Biden administration to establish disaster recovery centers in other municipalities on the island to ensure equitable access to federal resources and services.

“DRCs are essential in helping survivors access disaster assistance programs, understand written correspondence, and learn about federal grant opportunities to make their homes more resilient,” added lawmakers. “Many residents currently do not have electricity to have an internet connection. Others may not have the computer technology to access the the Internet. Additionally, nearly a quarter of the Puerto Rican population is over the age of 65 and may have limited or no computer literacy. With internet accessibility being a potential problem, establishing more DRCs will help ensure a more equitable recovery of the island. We also ask that you prioritize increasing fluent Spanish speaking staff to provide residents with comprehensive and prompt assistance.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren joined Sen. Menendez and Rep. Velázquez in signing the letter. (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.), Martin Heinrich (DN.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 (DN.Y. -13), Darren Soto (D-Fla.-09), Ritchie Torres (DN.Y.-15), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Albio Sires (DN.J.-08), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas-20), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-51) and Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona-03).

find the letter HERE and lower.

Dear President Biden,

As Puerto Rico seeks to rebuild and recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, we are concerned about the accessibility and availability of federal assistance applications, documentation, and other materials in Spanish. We ask that you ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration (SBA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) , the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other federal entities make all resources available, accessible, and properly translated into Spanish. Additionally, we urge FEMA to quickly establish Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) in other municipalities in Puerto Rico.

The United States Civil Rights Commission released a report that found language access was a significant issue in accessing federal assistance for survivors of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey.[1] In Puerto Rico, FEMA did not have enough Spanish-speaking staff to accommodate the island, leading to delays in aid. The Commission also received testimonies that even after the documents were translated into Spanish, they were often inaccurate and confusing. Although some improvements have been made to 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 that you prioritize increasing fluent Spanish speaking staff to provide residents with comprehensive and prompt assistance.

Further, we ask that you direct FEMA to quickly establish additional disaster recovery centers in several municipalities on the island. DRCs are essential in helping survivors access disaster assistance programs, understand written correspondence, and learn about federal grant opportunities to make their homes more resilient. Many residents currently do not have electricity to have an internet connection. Others may not have the computer technology to access the Internet. Additionally, nearly a quarter of the Puerto Rican population is over the age of 65 and may have limited or no 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 quickly ensure that FEMA, USDA, SBA, and all other relevant federal agencies make their resources and applications complete and available in Spanish, and to establish more physical centers throughout the island for those without internet access. Resources. Thank you for your attention to these requests.

Sincerely,

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