By Nancy Neal
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Infrastructure crumbled under the heavy winds and rains. Power lines blew and the electricity went out all over the island. Cell towers went down, and communication came to an abrupt stop. Puerto Ricans in the United States were unable to communicate with their family members for days.
We are hearing that power will be out in rural areas for upwards of 12 months. Even in urban areas, estimates are two to three months in places. Hospitals are without power and running on generators. But with limited gasoline, the generators can’t keep up with the demand for power. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in Puerto Rico, these emergency management services will be critical for months to come.
Families are struggling to find food and clean water. Children of families living in poverty will be out of school for months, keeping them from receiving important school meals. And the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), the equivalent of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the United States, will not be expanded during this time of crisis to address the increased need during this recovery program because its funding comes from a block grant.
Puerto Rican residents, U.S. citizens, are flying from the island to mainland cities like New York, Miami, and Orlando to stay with family members. SNAP benefits will be critical for the survival of these family members when they arrive. Other safety-net programs will also be critical for their recovery.
Jesus’ ministry was one of healing and reconciliation. It was a ministry reconciling God and God’s people, but it was also one of bringing those who were outcast back into the fold. Lepers were made clean so that they could come back into the community. Those who were blind were given sight so they could contribute to the needs of the community instead of begging.
As members of Congress make decisions about the federal budget, they must do so with an eye toward drawing people closer and not pushing them to the margins. A strong safety net helps to keep people from falling deeper into poverty. It gives people an opportunity to participate in the economy, to participate in their communities. Strong programs of investment in communities destroyed in storms will give people opportunities to participate in building resilient communities with strong economies.
Investments in poverty-focused development programs help to provide resources for communities around the world to strengthen their nutrition and education, infrastructure, and to build resilient communities with sustainable economies.
Nancy Neal is the interim director of church relations at Bread for the World.