DemDaily: The Uncounted Americans

June 3, 2018

It has been over eight months since the category-4 Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean and the 3.4 million residents of Puerto Rico, leaving them without homes, power and communication, but killing, according to Government numbers, only 64.

In the aftermath of the tragedy there was great controversy over both the federal and island government's slow recovery efforts, as well as the public downplaying of the cost, including lives, to the US Territory.

 Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health study  estimated that 4,645 people died as a result of Maria and its aftermath - and as many as $1,000 more could be attributed to the hurricane. 

Now, following a Harvard University study released last Thursday indicating the total numbers were 70 times greater than Puerto Rico's official death toll, there is much-needed attention re-focused on the ongoing plight of the island.

The Data
Following the Harvard Study, the Puerto Rican government's Department of Health on Friday released data showing there were at least 1,400 "additional deaths" in the months after the hurricane, compared to the same period the year before.  But the numbers were not officially attributed to Maria.

Puerto Rico Flag.  Getty Images

Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who initially said his government did the best it could with information-gathering protocol available at the time, in an interview with CNN, issued an ultimatum to his own administration saying "there will be hell to pay" if all stats are not forthcoming.

In February, the island announced commission of an independent review of the official death count, to be led by George Washington University, but completion of the study has been delayed until later this summer.

The Harvard poll was based on a survey of 3,299 random household surveys, which allows for a larger margin of error.  Other studies to-date estimate an initial 1,500+ deaths.

The Devastation
In addition to wiping out Puerto Rico's resources and infrastructure, the September, 2017 hurricanes caused the largest power outage in American history. Total damages were estimated at $95 billion.

Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated organized" territory of the United States, which means its residents are US citizens who pay into Social Security and are entitled to most of the same benefits under the Constitution, but do not have voting representation in Congress and do not pay federal taxes.

In October Congress voted to provide funding for rebuilding infrastructure, and up to $4.9 billion in loans to help the island's government, but the rate of implementation and response received widespread criticism --
approximately a third of the deaths documented by the survey were caused by an interruption of medical services.

Trump tweets 10 days after crisis

The controversies were further compounded by the President's comments throughout the crisis, which included accusing Puerto Ricans of criminal mismanagement and threatening to cut aide following a twitter war with the Mayor of San Juan.

To add further insult, in December, under the new tax bill, companies operating on the island will be subject to the new 12.5% tax on profits derived from foreign corporations. Puerto Rico was also excluded

from the new $2,000 child tax credit afforded the US mainland states.

At present, approximately 15% of the island is still without electricity, and there is still inadequate quality water or healthcare, or turnaround on insurance.

In Dedication to the Dead
In reaction to the news of the true toll, Puerto Ricans, on Friday, began a makeshift memorial to their lost.

In a clear message that all the dead should be counted, citizens lay down over 400 pairs of shoes at their government's feet -- on the plaza in front of Puerto Rico's capitol building in San Juan.

Shoes placed in front of the PR Capitol in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria (pic: Espinosa/AP)

On Friday, June 1, 2018, Puerto Rico's Institute of Statistics filed suit against the Commonwealth's Secretary of Health Rafael Rodríguez Mercado and the Director of the Demographic Registry Wanda del C. Llovet Díaz, in an effort to force them to comply with an April request to publicize current data and daily updates on fatalities.

There are 5.3 million Puerto Ricans living on the US mainland, and an estimated 135,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to one of the continental states since Hurricane Maria hit.

As we know, just a few votes can make a difference.

This year's hurricane season in Puerto Rico began Friday. Congress' own storm is expected to last through November.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: CNN, The Hill, Cox Media, CenterforPuertoRicanStudies/ CUNY, 97.1FM, LiveScience, Bustle, FiveThirtyEight

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