Sending Office: Honorable Nydia M. Velazquez
House co-sponsors (66): Barragán, Bass, Blumenauer, Bonamici,
Bordallo, Boyle, Brady (PA), Capuano, Cárdenas, Carson, Castor, Clarke, Cohen, Courtney, DeLauro, Demings, DeSaulnier, Ellison, Engel, Espaillat, Evans, Gallego, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutiérrez, Hanabusa, Hastings, Huffman, Jackson Lee,
Jayapal, Kaptur, Khanna, Larson, Lawson, Lee, Lewis (GA), Lowenthal, Luján, Luján Grisham, C. Maloney, S.P. Maloney, McEachin, McGovern, Meeks, Meng, Moulton, Nadler, Napolitano, Norton, Pallone, Pascrell, Pingree, Pocan, Roybal-Allard, Rush, 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 September 11, 2018, President Donald Trump claimed his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which killed approximately 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, was an “incredible unsung success.” On September 13, the President doubled down on his ignorance,
and took to Twitter to claim the high death toll is somehow rigged by Democrats in order to make him look bad. It was absolutely chilling for me to hear this President brag about his ability to oversee a disaster response when numerous researchers and scholars
have confirmed nearly 3,000 American citizens in Puerto Rico lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Maria. It was even more disturbing to see him allege Democrats are inflating the death count for political gain. It is exactly this sort of political gamesmanship
following a devastating natural disaster that cannot be permitted to happen ever again. We cannot permit the Commander in Chief to gaslight the nation when it comes to the deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens.
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. President Trump’s uninformed, unabashed,
and self-aggrandizing pronouncement of the “success” of his administration’s response to Maria was no doubt influenced by the early mis-count of 64 deaths, and real concern exists that this attitude may trickle down to the appointed heads of executive agencies
with disaster relief missions. In the words of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, “If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [is] a success God help us all.” The President’s attempt to use the confusion surrounding the post-Maria death toll for political gain
solidifies the need for our legislation. The uncertainty and lack of transparency that followed Hurricane Maria should never happen again anywhere, because as we’ve just seen, this President will use it to his advantage, instead of helping those in need.
For more information, or to co-sponsor the bill, please contact Matt Gómez in my office at
Matthew.Gomez@mail.house.gov or 6-4117.
Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0