Sending Office: Honorable Nydia M. Velazquez
House co-sponsors (52): Barragán, Bass, Blumenauer,
Bordallo, Boyle, Brady (PA), Capuano, Cárdenas, Carson, Castor, Clarke, Cohen, DeLauro, Demings, DeSaulnier, Ellison, Engel, Espaillat, Evans, Gallego, Grijalva, Gutiérrez, Hanabusa, Huffman, Jackson Lee, Jayapal, Kaptur, Khanna, Larson, Lawson, Lewis (GA),
C. Maloney, S.P. Maloney, McEachin, McGovern, Napolitano, Norton, Pallone, Pascrell, Pingree, Pocan, Serrano, Shea-Porter, Sires, Soto, Takano, Thompson (MS), Tsongas, Wasserman Schultz, Welch, Wilson (FL), Yarmuth
Senate co-sponsors (8): Blumenthal, Carper, Feinstein, Gillibrand, Markey, Menendez, Nelson, Warren
On August 28, 2018, the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health published an
independent analysis commissioned by the Governor of Puerto Rico showing that Hurricane Maria killed an estimated 2,975 people in Puerto Rico from September 2017 through February 2018. Notably, the study found those in low-income areas and elderly men were
at the greatest risk of dying. This comes mere weeks after the government of Puerto Rico finally
acknowledged the official death toll of 64, upon which it relied for months, was a gross undercount, and that the true number was likely to be in the thousands. Though we may never know the exact number of all lives lost during and as a result of Hurricane
Maria, the fact that numerous independent studies (e.g., by the
New York Times and
Harvard University) show the true number is likely to be in the thousands underscores the need for nationwide best practices guidance for quantifying mortality post-natural disaster. More importantly, it shows how badly transparency and oversight are needed
when it comes to post-disaster death counts.
That’s why Senator Kamala Harris and I introduced and will continue to advance the Counting Our Unexpected Natural Tragedies’ Victims Act, or the COUNT Victims Act (H.R. 6048) in our respective chambers. Our legislation directs FEMA to contract with the
National Academy of Medicine to conduct a study that addresses approaches to quantifying mortality and significant morbidity among populations affected by major disasters, and include policy recommendations for the future. As we’ve argued, proper attribution
of mortality is important because it offers information to grieving families, makes families eligible for federal disaster programs, and affords governments with valuable lessons that can help mitigate the impact of future disasters.
With the study called for in our legislation, we will finally have nationwide best practices guidance from an independent agency for how governments should evaluate mortality and morbidity following a natural disaster. Puerto Rico’s admission that the post-Maria
death toll is actually in the thousands (after months of intransigence on this issue), along with the lack of transparency demonstrated by the manner in which the government of Puerto Rico made this admission – quietly burying it in the middle of a
400+ page economic and disaster recovery plan – solidifies the need for our legislation. The uncertainty and lack of transparency that followed Hurricane Maria should never happen again anywhere.
For more information, or to co-sponsor the bill, please contact Matt Gómez in my office at
Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0