Editorial: Trump’s Puerto Rico response wholly unacceptable

The Trump administration’s lack of an immediate response in a hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, coupled with jabs at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, demonstrate a lack of sensitivity following one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. Where the federal government is failing, private individuals and local governments, particularly in South Florida, have an obligation to help.

To be clear, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, which means that in the event of any terrible crisis, the U.S. federal government is expected to reach out in the same way it did in the Florida Keys following Irma or Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

In the days following Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration did indeed respond. The Jones Act was waived for 10 days, allowing international ships to reach the island with supplies and manpower, which should be useful short term. However, of course, this means that once these 10 days are up, the Jones Act will continue to alienate Puerto Rico in the effort of long-term recovery.

Aid has been painstakingly slow in a time when Puerto Rico needs it most, and Trump’s response to demands for increased aid couldn’t have been more inappropriate. By insinuating that Puerto Rico was asking for too much and by calling Mayor Cruz a poor leader, Trump has somehow managed to interpret a plea for help as a personal slight. As the president continues to attack “fake news” for candidly reporting on the embattled island’s dire situation, he embarrasses himself and the presidency.

As frustrating as the federal government’s response may be, it’s incredibly inspiring to see how other people have grouped together to raise awareness and create humanitarian aid packages. Everyone from Pitbull to Beyoncé to Jennifer Lopez have stepped in to help.

We in South Florida know hurricanes all too well. Miami-Dade police set up a collection site at its Kendall district station, just one more site in the county where volunteers have shown up to help after each catastrophe. Gov. Rick Scott has asked all Florida state colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition rates to Puerto Rican students. Miami Dade College, Broward College and Palm Beach State College have taken up this recommendation.

St. Thomas and Florida Atlantic University offer other types of aid, and Florida International University hopes to offer tuition breaks for the spring semester. We hope the University of Miami will join this cohort in offering whatever additional aid is feasible for Puerto Rican students in need, as well as for faculty and staff affected by the disaster.

These are the appropriate responses following catastrophes. Political squabbling is not. Ordinary people with a desire to help those who have been displaced should not be discouraged by such partisan fighting. Instead, leaders should set examples by rising up and contributing to local efforts.

We have a responsibility to step up in when the federal government and parts of the population will not. As residents of a multicultural, majority Spanish-speaking, hurricane-prone city, we are uniquely situated to step up and care for our Puerto Rican neighbors who don’t share the same benefits of living on the mainland like us.

Hopefully, the actions of ordinary people can create a dialogue in the federal government that helps the Puerto Rican people get the aid they need and deserve.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.