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Opinion: Trump Administration Has Given Appropriate Relief to Puerto Rico

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Matthew Noyes

Amid controversy surrounding how President Trump handled the natural disaster, he has faced accusations claiming he did not do enough. Are these accusations appropriate, or are the critics simply using the unfortunate events to score political points? As an individual, I always aim to see the truth and analyze from an objective perspective. This article will present the facts surrounding Hurricane Maria and offer an interpretation of what went down to help readers decide for themselves.

I am moved to reveal my conclusion of the question at hand: the Trump administration’s preparedness and response to Hurricane Maria has helped mitigate the tragedy’s impact on our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Here is what you need to consider in judging the administration’s handling of the hurricane: What was done in preparation for the hurricane, how the response was carried out, and what may have inhibited relief efforts.

When we say Trump is or is not doing enough in Puerto Rico, we simplify the issue. The federal government is a machine with many cogs and gears with the President on top. He is ultimately responsible, but we should consider the Trump Administration as the unit of analysis. Although President Trump is commander in chief, there are certain factors that restrict what his administration can do. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) are two of the major players that are dealing with relief efforts. There are bureaucratic procedures within the DOD and FEMA, Puerto Rico’s existing infrastructure, and laws that impact how the administration can execute relief efforts.

Retired navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for New American Security Jerry Hendrix offers expert insight into the Trump administration’s preparation. Speaking to Bloomberg News, he said, “Amphibious ships including light amphibious carriers and [an] amphibious landing ship dock were at sea and dispatched to Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane’s impact.” He continued, noting that the ships have flight and well-decks that allow large landing crafts to carry 150 tons of supplies on each trip to the island. This shows the ability to supply Puerto Rico with necessities. Hendrix also said, “The ships, due to their designs to support Marine amphibious landings in war zones, also have hospitals onboard to provide medical treatment on a large scale.” All of this was set up prior to the hurricane hitting Puerto Rico. Considering the extensive capabilities of these vessels, one might say the Trump administration took proper precautions.

There has been a deluge of criticism directed against President Trump’s response, mainly coming from Democrats like the Mayor of San Juan. Are the criticisms warranted? There may have been some gaps in response due to failure to mobilize DOD resources to the fullest extent according to Capt. Hendrix and The Atlantic. Notwithstanding extenuating circumstances such as Puerto Rico’s poor infrastructure and the fact that it is an island and therefore inherently more difficult to service when compared to Texas or Florida.

Although close to the mainland, Puerto Rico is an island which means any and all relief has to go over water. This alone makes tackling relief more difficult than if it were part of the continental states. Puerto Rico’s poor infrastructure prior to the hurricane compounds the difficulty. Capt. Hendrix reports,  “Its roads were in disrepair and its electrical grid was antiquated prior to the hurricane.” With the added chaos that ensues from a catastrophic natural disaster, we can conclude that helping Puerto Rico was no easy task despite all the efforts made to do so. After looking at what the Trump administration actually did in preparation and response to the hurricane it appears that most of the criticism is the result of partisan politics.

Another major extenuating roadblock to relief came from the Jones Act, which President Trump temporarily suspended. “The Jones Act requires goods shipped between points in the United States to be carrier in vessels built, owned, and (mostly) operated by Americans,” the New York Times reports. Before Trump temporarily revoked the antiquated protectionist law, Puerto Rico was limited to only receiving help from ships that met the qualifications in the Jones Act. This limited the aid Puerto Rico could receive. It is a protectionist law that has proved impractical as well as ethically corrupt because it inhibits the exchange of goods and services between the U.S. and other governmental and private entities. Thankfully, Trump himself suspended it and has called for its permanent repeal.

Outside of that, the administration has carried out the majority of relief rather than the president unilaterally. Through reviewing the administration’s preparedness and response along with the difficulties presented such as Puerto Rico’s poor infrastructure and the Jones Act, we can come to the conclusion that the administration acted fairly appropriately in aiding our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.

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Matthew Noyes is a conservative columnist and assistant opinions editor of the Albany Student Press. He is also president of the University at Albany's Turning Point USA chapter and a writer for Campus Reform. Noyes, a New Hampshire native, is a political science and Japanese double major.

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