Governor Cuomo Announces Continued Efforts to Support Puerto Rico's Recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria

June 10, 2019

From the office of Governor Cuomo

Members of Memorial Commission Will Solicit Ideas for Design and Installation of Memorial and Make Recommendations to the Governor

More Than 346 SUNY and CUNY Students Will Deploy to Puerto Rico Over 10 Weeks This Summer

Second Year of SUNY and CUNY's Volunteer Service Program Sends Total of 500 Students in 2019 to Help Repair Damaged Homes

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced continued efforts to support Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, including the members of the new Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission and the latest deployment of SUNY and CUNY students to Puerto Rico who will continue their mission helping the island recover from the devastating impact of the 2017 hurricane season.

"While the federal government forgot an important fact, which is that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, New York State said on day one that we will stand with Puerto Rico every step of the way," Governor Cuomo said. "There is still work to do which is why we are bringing another 300 college students down from SUNY and CUNY this summer to help rebuild, and I'll be going down again to work with those students. We are also setting up a Commission that is going to commemorate Hurricane Maria and its victims. And this September, we will announce the design for that memorial and where it's going to be in Battery Park City."

"Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico are still working every day to recover from the devastation that took thousands of lives and forever changed life on the island," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "Unlike the federal government, New York has been by the side of the people of Puerto Rico since the hurricanes hit, helping the recovery effort in every way possible. This latest deployment of SUNY and CUNY volunteers and the Memorial Commission will continue our work to help with rebuilding and remember the lives that were lost."

The Memorial Commission, established under Executive Order No. 189, will solicit ideas and make recommendations this September on the establishment of a new memorial honoring the victims and survivors of Hurricane Maria and the resilience of the Puerto Rican community. It is estimated nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans lost their lives as a result of the devastating storm. The Memorial Commission will begin its work immediately to provide recommendations to the Governor pertaining to the site, design and installation of the memorial. The state has identified six potential locations for the memorial in Battery Park City:

  • Chambers Street Overlook: This northernmost site is just west of Stuyvesant High School, at the highest point in Battery Park City.
  • Belvedere Plaza: This site lies on the elevated northwest corner of the North Cove Marina.
  • Esplanade Plaza: This site lies on the southwest corner of the North Cove Marina.
  • North side of South Cove: This site lies on the northwest corner of South Cove Park.
  • South side of South Cove: This site lies on the southwest corner of South Cove Park.
  • North side of Wagner Park: This site lies on the northwest corner of Wagner Park near the Museum Of Jewish Heritage.

The commission will be comprised of ten members appointed by the Governor, and will be overseen and coordinated by New York Stands with Puerto Rico co-chairs Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressman Jose E. Serrano; Secretary of State Rossana Rosado; and Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David. Members of the commission include:

  • Edwin Meléndez, Director, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College
  • Havidan Rodriguez, President, University at Albany 
  • Elizabeth Velez, President, The Velez Organization, Resident of Battery Park City 
  • Brenda Torres, Executive Director, Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary
  • Dennis Rivera, Former President, 1199/SEIU
  • Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson, Comité Noviembre
  • Santos Rodriguez, Director of Community Affairs & Strategic Initiatives, Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York 
  • Hilda Rosario Escher, Former President & CEO, Ibero American Action League
  • Tonio Burgos, CEO, Tonio Burgos & Associates
  • Casimiro D. Rodriguez, Sr., President, Hispanic Heritage Council of Western NY

The Governor also announced the first summer deployment of SUNY and CUNY students as part of expanded efforts for the second year of his New York Stands with Puerto Rico initiative. The Governor has already deployed 154 students during the winter and spring breaks to continue to rebuild homes damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Over the course of 10 weeks this summer, more than 346 students will deploy to Puerto Rico, fulfilling Governor Cuomo's commitment to send 500 student volunteers in 2019. The volunteers will work with the non-profit rebuilding organizations All Hands and Hearts, Heart 9/11 and NECHAMA to clean, restore and rebuild homes. Students will deploy for two-week increments and may earn college credit.

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, "New York's commitment to Puerto Rico is unwavering. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, we are embarking on the next phase of helping our neighbors rebuild and recover. The memorial commission further solidifies our partnership and demonstrates to the rest of the world that we will always stand with Puerto Rico."

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "The deployment of  hundreds of students to continue to help the people of Puerto Rico in their rebuilding efforts is at the core of SUNY's values and commitment to community and helping those in need.  I'm deeply proud of each of our student's willingness to answer the call and volunteer their time wherever and whenever help is needed.  We will continue to stand with Puerto Rico and the Governor in restoring and rebuilding homes for our fellow citizens.  Thank you Governor Cuomo for your continued leadership and to all our partners on the ground working every day to make a better life for the people of Puerto Rico."  

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said, "As someone who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has a personal connection to the island and its residents, it means so much that Governor Cuomo remains committed to sustaining relief efforts there. I would like to thank the Governor as well as the relief organizations — All Hands and Hearts, Heart 9/11, and NECHAMA — for their continued support. I am also proud of the diverse group of CUNY students who will make the trip; many of them have connections to the island, and some are themselves survivors of natural disasters from places like Haiti, Nepal and Bangladesh. These students will long appreciate the real-life impacts and effects of their public service and service learning. Nobody works harder than a CUNY student. The CUNY community will always stand with the people of Puerto Rico."

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "Despite the federal government's action in helping the people of Puerto Rico, New York set an example for the rest of the nation to follow and demonstrating how our nation should respond when our fellow Americans are suffering. These student volunteers will have an enormous impact on the lives of so many people and families in Puerto Rico and I thank Governor Cuomo for his continued efforts to support our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico."

Assembly Member Marcos A. Crespo, Co-chair of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee said, "After Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, New York State made a promise to help our fellow Americans and rebuild the island. Governor Cuomo is holding to this promise with yet another deployment of student volunteers who will help so many families who lost their homes in the Hurricane. The rest of the nation should take note, as Governor Cuomo is showing the leadership we need as our federal government continues to remain silent."

Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building Trades of Greater New York said, "We are proud to be a part of the New York Stands with Puerto Rico initiative where more than 200 unionized Building Trades members were deployed to rebuild. Without the leadership and vision of Governor Cuomo, none of this would have been possible and hundreds of Puerto Rican residents wouldn't have roofs over their heads."

New York Stands with Puerto Rico initiative

Governor Cuomo announced an expansion of this initiative in September 2018, with a commitment to continue deployments of SUNY and CUNY students to aid in the recovery effort.

During the first year of the initiative, the Governor 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 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 Grant In-State Tuition

Under the direction of Governor Cuomo, SUNY's and CUNY's respective Board of Trustees passed resolutions in the fall of 2017 authorizing campuses to provide students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands impacted by hurricanes Maria and Irma with the ability to pay tuition at the in-state rate for the 2017-2018 academic year. Both systems renewed the granting of in-state tuition for the 2018-2019.  

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
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