Kamala Harris and Nydia Velázquez Intro Bill to Avoid Death Toll Miscounts from Natural Disasters
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) on Monday introduced legislation that would create a standard federal process to determine fatalities after a natural disaster. The Counting Our Unexpected Natural Tragedies’ Victims Act comes on the heels of a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month that estimated that 4,645 deaths could be linked to Hurricane Maria -- almost 70 times higher than the Puerto Rican government’s original death toll of 64. If passed, the bill would authorize $2 million for FEMA to contract with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a study on how to best assess mortality during and in the aftermath of a natural disaster -- a process currently left up to individual states and territories. Both lawmakers argued that accuracy and transparency are essential, as it influences the urgency of federal response efforts, and the amount of aid disaster victims can receive from FEMA. “Whether it be Hurricane Maria or another natural disaster to come, the accuracy of the death toll has a direct impact on an area’s recovery,” said Harris. “We cannot allow our government’s failed response in Puerto Rico to ever happen again.” Velázquez weighed in saying death tolls influence public perception about the scope of a disaster and often determine what federal resources are allocated for a response. “Tragically, in Puerto Rico, the official death toll has been vastly undercounted, driving a narrative that has enabled the Trump Administration to brag about its response to Maria, while our fellow citizens were dying. This is shameful and it can never happen again.” More on this legislation here.