Bernie Sanders along with five other U.S. Democrats on Tuesday proposed a bill, The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2017, to help rebuild the islands after the hurricanes devastated the territories.
The US$176 million "Marshall Plan" that is endorsed by 75 organizations aims at a speedy recovery of the islands and "emphasizes local control and sustainable rebuilding of the territories and instructs Congress to address Puerto Rico’s debt – a major impediment to a just and full recovery," according to the press statement.
The news comes amidst a recent report by the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey, UPR-Cayey, that stated that the poverty level on the island had increased by 8 percent, and went up to 52.3 percent after hurricane Maria hit the island.
It looks at deeper issues afflicting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which alongside assisting the islands in their immediate humanitarian needs, the bill also aims at helping the islands flourish in the long term, taking special consideration with Puerto Rico's crippling US$74.8 billion debt.
"It ensures that any federal disaster funding provided to the islands is protected from Wall Street vulture funds and acted upon with local input and local workers," the press statement further added.
The legislation is not intended to be sanctified into a law but will be crucial when it comes to negotiating relief efforts, the Intercept reported. Some of the key components it focuses on are leading efforts in infrastructure and economic development, environmental cleanup, helping Puerto Rico cope with debt, improve education and child care facilities.
Other Democrats behind the legislation are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Reps. Stacy Plaskett (D-V.I.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).
"The devastating effects of this historic natural disaster calls for a historic response. Our bill has the makings of a Marshall Plan – providing vital funds to rebuild islands’ housing, electricity, health care, and basic government operations. Relief is not enough. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands must rebuild with resilience to better withstand future disasters, and we must meet our moral obligation to help fellow American citizens in need," Blumenthal said in a statement.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, San Juan Mayor who was seen rescuing Puerto Ricans from flooded streets in the aftermath of hurricane Irma and Maria, and who expressed disdain toward the Trump administration for not stepping up in their relief efforts, has shown support for the bill.
Cruz said the bill is a "comprehensive plan that provides the blueprint for the transformation of Puerto Rico. While dealing with all major areas of immediate concern: energy, health and education it also sets the foundation to make Puerto Rico a more equitable, just and fair society for all."
"Senator Sanders also shows a great deal of respect and faith in us when claiming that the recovery or Puerto Rico must be in Puerto Rican hands. The bill comes from Sanders’ commitment to listening first hand to the hopes and aspirations of our people and must be given serious consideration by Congress," the mayor added.
Puerto Rico is also planning to install solar-panel-powered traffic lights.
"With this system of solar panels the traffic lights will continue to function normally and would prevent traffic, traffic accidents, and the wear and tear of the agents that have to regulate traffic when there is no electrical power," José Luis Rivera, president of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the Chamber of Puerto Rico, said, Primera Hora, reported.
"Following the announcement of the Federal Highway Administration's allocation of 8.7 million to be used to repair, among other things, intersections with traffic lights affected by Hurricane Maria, the ACT must acquire solar traffic lights to be installed at major intersections," he added.