Governor Cuomo Announces 2019 Start of New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative

January 3, 2019

From the office of Governor Cuomo

50 SUNY and CUNY Volunteers Deploy to Puerto Rico to Clean, Restore and Rebuild Homes with Non-Profit Partners

Representatives from SUNY, CUNY and UNICEF USA to Expand Trauma-Informed Mental Health Support as Part of Mental Health Initiative

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the start of the 2019 New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, deploying 50 SUNY and CUNY volunteers to Puerto Rico on winter break to work with non-profit partners to clean, restore and rebuild damaged homes. Additionally, as part of the new disaster mental health initiative announced in September 2018, a small team of SUNY, CUNY and UNICEF USA experts will convene a diverse group of experts and organizations in Puerto Rico to create an action plan to expand trauma-informed mental health support across the island.

"New York has stood with Puerto Rico since day one, and we will not leave our fellow Americans behind while the federal government continues to ignore their needs," Governor Cuomo said. "This new deployment of volunteers will not only help rebuild the island stronger and more resilient than before, it will provide much-needed mental health support to individuals still suffering from the trauma of the disaster and Washington's ineffective response."

"We're continuing the Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative to further help our brothers and sisters in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that devastated communities," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We are committed to our New York promise to Puerto Rico to help them rebuild, recover, and create resiliency. There's still more work to be done, and we will continue to expand our volunteer efforts until the job is done, and done well."

The Governor committed to sending 500 SUNY and CUNY volunteers in 2019, which builds upon last summer's effort that deployed more than 650 SUNY and CUNY students, as well as skilled labor volunteers, to assist communities still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Over the course of five deployments, volunteers logged in nearly 41,000 hours to clean, restore, and rebuild homes. The goal to renovate 150 homes was far exceeded, with a total of 178 homes restored over 10 weeks.

The deployment of approximately 10 experts builds upon initial assessment work conducted by the SUNY New Paltz Institute for Disaster Mental Health in November in partnership with UNICEF USA. This new initiative will focus on helping children and families cope with the trauma caused by Hurricane Maria, providing sustainable support that can continue even after relief volunteers leave the island.

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "While we have made great strides in helping our neighbors in Puerto Rico rebuild and recover, there is much more work to do. New York has stood with Puerto Rico in the face of disaster and in the face of a lackluster federal response. We will continue to support the island, its infrastructure, and its residents, who are our fellow Americans."

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, a long-standing partnership has been fostered to continue the state's Puerto Rico recovery and rebuilding initiative. This sets a positive example for our students, encouraging them to think of others and commit their time and energy toward public service. I am proud of our SUNY and CUNY students and other volunteers who will start 2019 representing New York State as we help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico."

CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said, "Last year's New York Stands with Puerto Rico initiative was an unqualified success and a transformative experience for the nearly 200 CUNY students who participated, many of whom had personal connections to the island. This year's collaboration with UNICEF USA will expand the opportunities for students. We are proud to help in the continuing relief effort and applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership and for his concern for the people of Puerto Rico."

Congressman José E. Serrano, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "The federal government has failed in its response to help the thousands of Puerto Ricans whose lives have been torn apart by Hurricane Maria. Today's deployment of volunteers is another important step to ensure our fellow Americans receive the assistance and respect they deserve. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his unwavering commitment to rebuilding the Puerto Rican community."

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "Governor Cuomo is once again stepping up to help the people in Puerto Rico by deploying another group of volunteers to help with both physical and mental health support. These volunteers will have a tremendous impact on the lives of so many of our fellow Americans. I applaud Governor Cuomo's continued efforts to help the island rebuild and for holding the federal government responsible for their insufficient response."

Assemblymember Marcos A. Crespo, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "When the federal government failed to provide support to Puerto Rico, Governor Cuomo and New York stepped in to help. This deployment of volunteers will further New York's promise to help rebuild the island and address both the physical and mental health needs of the people in Puerto Rico that are still suffering from the trauma of the disaster. I thank Governor Cuomo for his tireless support of our fellow Americans."

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said, "With this deployment of volunteers, New York is setting an example for how our entire nation should respond when our fellow Americans are suffering in a time of crisis. The federal government has been absent in the effort to help the people of Puerto Rico, and thankfully Governor Cuomo has stepped up to help. I thank Governor Cuomo for spearheading this latest effort."

Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater NY President Gary LaBarbera said, "The Building and Construction Trades of Greater New York proudly stands with our fellow brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and that is why we will be sending a delegation of 40 members to Orocovis to aid in recovery efforts. With Governor Cuomo's leadership, we are confident that the island will be able to rebuild following the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria."

Caryl Stern, President and CEO, UNICEF USA said, "As a non-partisan/apolitical organization, UNICEF USA is only concerned with ensuring that children in need receive the assistance they require. Building on UNICEF's 70+ years of emergency response, we are proud to join Governor Cuomo, SUNY & CUNY in empowering young people to meet that challenge! "

New York State's Ongoing Efforts to Support Puerto Rico

Since Hurricane Maria's landfall in September 2017, Governor Cuomo has traveled to Puerto Rico five times and has continuously directed critical resources to communities in need. In the immediate aftermath, New York established the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort, ultimately distributing at least 4,400 pallets of supplies collected from 13 donations sites across the state. New York State also deployed more than 1,000 personnel, including hundreds of utility workers and power experts to help with power restoration and grid stabilization. 

Under the Governor's leadership, New York State has dedicated approximately $13 million to support the more than 11,000 displaced Hurricane Maria victims living in New York. As part of the commitment, an initial investment of $2 million will go to partnering organizations who connect vulnerable Puerto Ricans to needed services such as employment, housing, benefits counseling and health care. Governor Cuomo has also committed up to $11 million dollars in housing and workforce funding for displaced Puerto Ricans: a $1 million program to provide robust case management services to displaced Puerto Ricans, and up to $10 million in job training and placement.

Governor Cuomo and the New York Congressional Delegation continue to advocate for Puerto Rico to receive essential federal assistance. In 2017, Governor Cuomo and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, along with members of the New York Congressional Delegation, issued a Build Back Better Assessment Report. The report identified specific sectors needing investments, including housing, power grid and resiliency, agriculture, and others. Together with $487 million for public safety and first response aid and $9 billion for long-term recovery management, the total funding need is $94.4 billion. 

On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria's landfall in September 2018, Governor Cuomo signed an Executive Order that created a new Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission to provide recommendations on the establishment of a new memorial honoring the victims and survivors of Hurricane Maria and the resilience of the Puerto Rican community. Additionally, in October 2018, Governor Cuomo called on FEMA to restore generators to communities in Puerto Rico.

For more information about the recovery and relief efforts underway in Puerto Rico please visit the Governor's Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands webpage.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

Share this:


Holly Liapis
Email the Office of Communications