Governor Cuomo Announces Expansion of the New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative

September 20, 2018

From the office of Governor Cuomo

Commits to Deploy 500 Additional SUNY and CUNY Students to Puerto Rico this School Year to Clean, Restore, and Rebuild Homes with Non-Profit Partners

Launches New Disaster Mental Health Initiative in Partnership with SUNY, CUNY, and UNICEF USA

Continued Partnership Between New York Power Authority and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to Assist with Power Grid Stabilization and Transformation

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an expansion of the successful New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, committing to deploy 500 additional SUNY and CUNY student volunteers and launching a new disaster mental health initiative. Student volunteer will embed with non-profit rebuilding partners to clean, repair, and restore damaged homes. In addition, SUNY and CUNY faculty and graduate students will work with local non-profit partners to train-the-trainer on evidence-based practices to help provide coping skills for those still suffering from the trauma of the disaster and protracted recovery.

"While the federal government continues to ignore the needs of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, New York is once again taking action by sending hundreds of student volunteers to help rebuild the island in its time of need," Governor Cuomo said. "New York has stood with Puerto Rico from day one, and we are committed to continuing our support until the island is stronger and better than ever before."

Beginning as early as winter break, teams of students will deploy for two weeks and earn college credit. This new commitment builds upon last summer's effort, which deployed more than 650 SUNY and CUNY students, as well as skilled labor volunteers, to assist communities still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma nearly one year after landfall. 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.

SUNY and CUNY, in partnership with UNICEF USA, will lead a new initiative focused on helping children and families cope with the trauma caused by Hurricane Maria. Simply put, traumatized children cannot learn—and there is ample scientific evidence of the short and long term effects of untreated trauma including direct linkages to poor academic achievement, school drop-out rates, mental illness, substance abuse, criminal behavior, incarceration, and disease. Therefore, this initiative will offer evidence-based, trauma-informed trainings and tools to educators, local organizations and programs working with children and other high risk communities. It will also convene a diverse group of experts from Puerto Rico and beyond, to create actionable recommendations for expanding trauma-informed mental health support across the island. Also joining this effort is the CUNY School of Public Health and The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz, which is renowned for its U.S. and international programs.

"We're expanding the successful Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative to further help our brothers and sisters in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that devastated communities one year ago today," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who attended today's event. "The federal government turned its back on our fellow citizens, while Trump grossly denies the reality of the impact of the storm and the lives lost. There's still more work to be done, and New York will continue to expand our volunteer efforts until the job is done, and done well."

Last week the New York Power Authority and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority renewed their partnership and signed a new Memorandum of Understanding, continuing the State's efforts to help Puerto Rico rebuild and stabilize its power grid, organize and maximize efficiencies in its utility operations and prepare for future severe storms. The new MOU allows for New York to continue its ongoing efforts in partnership with PREPA, the government-owned corporation responsible for electricity generation, power transmission and power distribution in Puerto Rico. Going forward, at PREPA's request, NYPA will offer consultation on a wide range of issues relating to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico's grid, focusing specifically on technical assistance to help stabilize Puerto Rico's power grid; reform management and operations; and strengthening emergency preparedness.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "The 650 SUNY and CUNY students and volunteers who participated in Governor Cuomo's Puerto Rico recovery initiative this spring and summer represented the best of New York in the worst of situations. Service opportunities like these are life-changing not only for the hurricane victims whose roofs are repaired and walls are rebuilt, but also for our students who experience the benefits of assisting others in their time of need. SUNY is proud to be part of this expanding community service initiative that offers an invaluable opportunity for our students to have a significant impact on the lives of others and their own. We are also pleased to see the Governor include a focused mental health initiative, and are eager to provide our expertise through SUNY New Paltz."

CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said, "The 'NY Stands with Puerto Rico' initiative has been a resounding success, and CUNY is proud to continue to be a part of it. Traveling to Puerto Rico to help rebuild has been a transformative experience for our students. The new collaboration with UNICEF USA gives them another way to aid thousands of U.S. citizens who are still coping with the emotional aftermath and trauma."

Caryl Stern, President and CEO, UNICEF USA said, "Simply put, the impact of trauma on children can be profound. There is ample evidence of its effects on young people, including poor academic achievement, mental illness and more. We are grateful to Governor Cuomo for recognizing this critical component of post-disaster recovery, and look forward to working with local experts and CUNY/SUNY partners on this initiative that will create valuable long-term impact for children and families across Puerto Rico."

Congressman José E. Serrano, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "New York continues to stand up to help Puerto Rico in the absence of leadership from the federal government. This additional deployment of student volunteers is just the latest effort by New York to help the island rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's devastation. These volunteers exemplify how our entire nation should respond when our fellow Americans are suffering in a time of crisis. I thank Governor Cuomo for spearheading this latest effort and for his commitment to helping our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico."

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "The federal government has failed the people in Puerto Rico who are still facing significant challenges after Hurricane Maria. Effective leadership is required to overcome these obstacles, and thankfully Governor Cuomo has stepped up to help our fellow Americans when the Trump Administration continues to ignore their suffering. With this new deployment of volunteers, we are not only addressing the physical needs of the people in Puerto Rico, we are starting a new mental health initiative to help those still suffering cope with the trauma of the disaster."

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.

Governor Cuomo 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.

Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo announced that New York will lead the effort for displaced Puerto Ricans in New York to file a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and the federal government for failing to adequately respond and provide assistance following Hurricane Maria.

In June, the Governor announced that the SUNY Board of Trustees and CUNY Board of Trustees would extend in-state tuition for students displaced by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The extension of the authorization allows students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to attend stated-operated colleges for the 2018-19 academic year at a lower cost to ease the burden as their families recover from the destruction following these natural disasters. In Academic Year 2017-2018 255 displaced students took advantage of the in-state tuition rate at CUNY colleges. While enrollment data is not yet available across SUNY for Fall 2018, 137 undergraduate students enrolled from Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017-2018 Academic Year that received in-state tuition rates.

Over the summer, Governor Cuomo announced the successful completion of the summer-long NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative. Throughout the summer, more than 650 SUNY and CUNY students, as well as skilled labor volunteers, traveled to island communities still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma to provide assistance to those in need. Over the course of five deployments, volunteers logged in nearly 41,000 hours cleaning, restoring, and rebuilding homes. The goal to renovate 150 homes was far exceeded, with a total of 178 homes restored over 10 weeks.

Governor Cuomo and the New York Congressional Delegation continue to advocate for Puerto Rico to receive essential federal assistance. In December, 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.

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
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