Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent the day in Puerto Rico on Sunday, announcing a state task force to help the island recover, and checking in on repair and restoration in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Cuomo was in the capitol of San Juan to announce the task force to make Puerto Rico not just recover, but become resilient. The governor chose a task force that includes well-connected labor leaders. It is co-chaired by the Bronx Democratic leader, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who joined a round table Sunday.
The task force's purpose is to find areas in need, paving the way for SUNY and CUNY students to receive college credit helping on the island later this year. It's the second phase of a major effort by New York to help rebuild Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island.
"Phase Two for us is going to be a volunteer effort," Cuomo said. "I think of it as Habitat for Humanity on steroids."
"We're going to continue giving them all the help we've been giving them to rebuild the island, from a power point of view, etc.," Cuomo said at the airport in the morning, before leaving for Puerto Rico. "But we're also starting an effort of home-by-home rebuilding, where New Yorkers will go down and actually work with different non-for-profits on the island to rebuild actual homes."
The students aren't just doing manual labor; they could be exposed to common legal issues on the island.
Although they are American citizens, many Puerto Ricans are unable to collect federal emergency aid because homes on the island are sometimes built without official deeds.
Cuomo has visited the island four times since the September hurricane, slamming the deficiency of assistance the island has received from the federal government. Since that first trip, Cuomo has directed a major rebuilding, including by dispatching power workers to restore electricity. The state and the New York Power Authority have sent a small team to try to prevent significant blackouts in Puerto Rico. Much of the island has power back after the hurricane, but less than two weeks ago the entire island lost power.
The visit to Puerto Rico was Cuomo's first since actor and activist Cynthia Nixon announced she would challenge the governor in the Democratic primary.
And Cuomo travels with well-connected New York political figures, leading to questions about the attention he continues to give Puerto Rico now.
"We were here in September, right after the hurricane. It was not a political year, it was not an election year," Cuomo said to me in an exclusive interview. "So sometimes you just are doing what you can to help people."
Aides to the governor said UNICEF is largely footing the bill for the rebuilding work, with some supplies having been donated as well. The aides said their hope is that the federal government will reimburse many of the technical workers.