“There is a purity in catastrophe. We see firsthand the nature of both human courage and human frailty, the destructive and arbitrary power of the elements, the breakdown of social restraint and of our mechanical inventions… It is under these circumstances that we discover who we are, for good or bad.” – James Lee Burke: Robicheaux
While still the Governor-Elect, Phil Murphy visited Puerto Rico to send a clear message: “We have not forgotten our fellow countrymen.” He went on to indicate, “We want to go back and say, ‘This is what we saw and these are three-to-five steps that we have to take’.”
Yesterday Governor Murphy signed an Executive Order establishing a 90-day Commission on Puerto Rico Relief to “collaborate with state and federal agencies to expedite processes benefiting displaced Puerto Ricans in New Jersey, as well as examine ways the state can aid the island.”
In a telephone conversation this afternoon with the commission’s Chair Rev. Joshua Rodriguez (Pastor, Cityline Church & National Latino Evangelical Coalition), he said that through the governor’s office it was just determined that the most recent number of displaced Puerto Ricans in NJ has reached 60,000, double the 30,000 recently reported. Rev. Rodriguez hopes to streamline services to these individuals in need with a single office and State-wide 1-800 number that will direct them to such specific agencies as housing, healthcare, public education for children and other social services.
With the federal government’s FEMA starting to reduce its services, another goal Rodriguez says is to solicit volunteer attorneys to help Puerto Ricans understand our laws/regulation and to file appeals when necessary. He mentioned that Ralph Izzo, CEO of PSE&G, has been seeking workers to help with PR’s electrical grid which just suffered another blow reducing substantially output to the island. Rev. Rodriguez expects the state’s effort to be more in human resources than new dollars and that private interests and non-profits will get more involved.
In announcing his Executive Order Murphy went on to indicate, “The federal response, I think, measured in every dimension has been wanting: Bodies, timing, money, vision, sensitivity, the implication that these folks are not American,” Congress last week approved more badly needed emergency assistance, but writing in today’s NYTimes
“We can’t put Puerto Rico on our backs, but we can have their backs. I hope in one small way this will step us in that direction.” Rev. Rodriguez would add that in the midst of this catastrophe the governor and the commission seek to bring aid and hope to a desperate community – helping us New Jerseyans “discover who we are, for good.”
Another commission member Arlene Quiñones Perez (Partner, DeCotiis & former President of Hispanic Bar Association) told me, “Puerto Rico continues to deal with the aftermath from two devastating hurricanes. Thank you Governor Murphy for assisting Americans coming from Puerto Rico to move forward with their lives. Moving a family can be taxing at the best of times, but when families must leave a dire situation without the necessary resources, having a State to welcome you and provide guidance can mean all the difference.”
(Image to the left is a NYT Selman Design)