Daily Archives: May 18, 2018

    As the start of hurricane season looms, 20,000 customers in Puerto Rico still have no power and federal aid is falling short, say groups.

    By Nicole Acevedo – CBS News

    Hurricane season starts in exactly two weeks, prompting worries that the island — still in recovery mode from Hurricane Maria — is not ready to face another storm season.

    On Tuesday, several members of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition, comprised of several nonprofits and advocacy groups issued a warning to the federal government, concerned that much of the island’s existing challenges after Hurricane Maria will repeat themselves in the event of another hurricane.

    Throughout the eight months after Hurricane Maria, there have been issues surrounding FEMA’s recovery efforts, including questions about botched meal contracts, delayed emergency response and the high numbers of denied aid applications to rebuild homes.

    “One thing is evident at the core of the response,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director at the Center for Popular Democracy and a part of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition. “There is a crisis of democracy. The federal government is acting as if the people of Puerto Rico are not constituents.”

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ending their power restoration mission in Puerto Rico on May 18. Currently, there are still nearly 20,000 customers living without electricity and three major blackouts have struck residents just this year.

    During a recent Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing about Puerto Rico’s electric grid, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., questioned FEMA’s decision. “If there are over 20,000 Puerto Rican American citizens still without power, is your mission really accomplished?”

    “Our mission as assigned by FEMA is,” replied Charles Alexander, director of contingency operations and homeland security at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Heinrich answered he didn’t “imagine a scenario” where 20,000 Texas or Florida residents would be without power “and FEMA would make that decision.”

    Critics have also questioned the federal government’s funding and the disbursement of the money available in the island.

    Aside from FEMA’s operational costs and other aid such as the Transitional Shelter Program, which houses displaced Puerto Ricans, Congress has allocated at least $18.9 billion for the U.S. territory. Of that, the island has received a little over $1 billion, according to an analysis from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.

    Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., noted that Hurricane Maria has left approximately $90 billion in damages.

    “We see only that $1 billion is for rebuilding the grid,” Soto said. “No surprise, we still see blackouts and people without power.”

    Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was deficient before the storm, has not been fully restored nor updated. The 155 mph winds from Maria brought down the entire grid and the electrical system’s collapse prompted the world’s second-longest blackout.

    The island’s debt-ridden and bankrupt power company had to activate a contingency plan that consisted of reducing power to energy reserves that handle generation failures, like the one that took place on Feb. 12 in northern Puerto Rico, in order to survive the disaster while avoiding running out of cash.

    During and after the storm, Puerto Rico saw the collapse of its communications system and delays in services and emergency response. The delays affected rescue missions as well as food and medical deliveries; it even affected the ability to call government helplines such as Línea PAS, a government-run suicide helpline, at a time when the island saw a 29 percent increase in suicides cases reported to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health.

    Puerto Rican officials have stated they have learned from these mistakes.

    Ahead of a next catastrophe, local officials have said that police stations, emergency management centers, fire stations and hospital crews are equipped with 100-watt radios in order to communicate during a futuree emergency. Local authorities will also be significantly increasing the amount of stocked supplies and expand storage space to house 12 times more water, 7 times more food and 130 emergency generators in towns across the island.

    One of the biggest lessons from Hurricane Maria was the key role of local nonprofits and community groups, which acted like first responders when Puerto Rico’s government could not reach nor communicate with vast sectors of the island.

    Frankie Miranda, senior vice president of the Hispanic Federation, which is part of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition, said on Tuesday that his organization and others have been working with local groups to put contingency plans in place ahead of a future storm.

    “If something happens on June 1st, they will be the ones to respond,” said Miranda, referring to local community groups.

    In the U.S., Archila said that groups in the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition are mobilizing Puerto Ricans in different states to put pressure on their government representatives.

    “Elected officials who represent Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. should feel the heat,” Archila said. “They are not paying attention, and we’re working hard to change that.”

     

     

    However, the memo remains classified and not public, leaving its details hidden.

    By: Kyle Cheney

    Special counsel Robert Mueller has provided a federal judge with an unredacted version of the Justice Department memo laying out the scope of his investigation and the potential crimes he’s authorized to pursue.

    However, the memo — long sought after by President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill, who regularly accuse Mueller of overstepping his bounds — remains classified and not public, leaving its details hidden.

    The document was filed as an “unredacted memorandum” under seal with the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Virginia, where Mueller is expected to try former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on bank fraud charges.

    Mueller’s decision to share the classified document comes two weeks after the judge, T.S. Ellis, demanded to see the full scope memo, authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Earlier this month, Ellis called for the document during a hearing on Manafort’s attempt to toss out some of the charges against him.

    In comments that drew applause from President Donald Trump and his allies, Ellis scolded Mueller’s team and raised questions about whether its pursuit of charges against Manafort was really part of an attempt to elicit testimony against Trump himself in Mueller’s ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s team coordinated with Moscow.

    Mueller initially filed a heavily redacted version of the memo showing that Rosenstein had authorized him to pursue allegations connected to Manafort’s work on behalf of a pro-Russia party in Ukraine, which preceded the 2016 election. The public portions also showed Mueller had the green light to look into any involvement in Russia’s 2016 election meddling.

    Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill have since then demanded that the Justice Department provide an unredacted version of the memo to Congress, despite longstanding precedent prohibiting DOJ from sharing records from an ongoing investigation.

    On Wednesday, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) called for Trump to override the Justice Department and order the release of the memo to Congress.

    Meadows said the Mueller team’s decision to share the scope memo with Ellis bolsters his call to provide the document to Congress.

    “You can’t share it with the judiciary and the Executive Branch and not share it with congress,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I think it strengthens our case.

    Meadows, who frequently speaks with Trump, said he hadn’t received a response from Trump to the GOP lawmakers’ letter but that he would be surprised if the White House doesn’t endorse their call.

    “I would be surprised if they don’t act upon it,” he said, “but I’ve been surprised before.”

    There was another round of steady increases in employment in the Buffalo metropolitan area in April.

    The market tacked on 6,800 jobs, in the private sector compared to a year ago, a growth rate of or 1.5 percent. Nonfarm jobs, including the public sector, rose by 7,100, or 1.3 percent, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

    Service plus health and education-related jobs were the industries that led hiring in the past year in the two county region comprising of Erie and Niagara.

    Other Upstate metro areas also had employment gains year-over-year. Rochester boosted its private-sector job count by 4,700, or 1.0 percent. Syracuse was up 2,600, or 1.0 percent. Albany added 3,200 private positions, or 0.9 percent.

    New York state’s private job count is at 8.15 million, an all-time high, according to the preliminary figures.

    The statewide unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.6 percent in April, matching its lowest level since July 2007.

    The state’s private sector job count is based on a payroll survey of 18,000 New York employers conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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