On Tuesday, September 23, a number of panelists addressed a Capitol Hill crowd on, One Year after Maria: How Children in Puerto Rico are Faring One Year After. The discussion highlighted how Hurricane Maria, one year ago, aggravated what was already a difficult situation for Puerto Rico’s children and families. A panel of experts described conditions in the U.S. Territory and offered some recommendations on how Congress could deliver needed support to the citizens.

The Institute for Youth Development (Instituto Del Desarrollo de la Juventud, IDJ), highlighted the fact that Hurricane Maria threatens to exacerbate a situation that was already critical by sharply increasing current child poverty rates. Before the hurricane six of ten children were living in poverty. The eye of the hurricane came through the southeastern region—an area with several municipalities that already had higher levels of poverty than the rest of the island. Nauguabo, Patillas, and Maunabo are municipalities that have more than seven of ten children living in poverty.

Before the hurricane the median income for married couples with children stood at $40,000 while it was $16,000 for single-father families and $8,000 for single mother families.

One of the solutions for immediate relief is a proposal that would alter the current Child Tax Credit that is limited for Puerto Rico to families with three or more children. That provision, which is based on the current federal tax structure, covers only 12 percent of families. Proponents are asking that the credit be expanded to families with one or more children. CWLA has signed a letter in support of the effort.

Other proposals designed to assist the country still struggling from the devastation that took nearly 3000 lives include: more detailed monitoring of data in certain key areas such as graduation rates, academic achievement and truancy; a Disaster Dislocated Worker Grant program to create 12,000 temporary jobs to both aid in the reconstruction and provide worker training for adults and youth; protect current investments in children and youth-serving programs to protect against some of the effects of the population exodus resulting from the disaster; and provide funding and support for more school psychologists and social workers.
Hurricane Maria devastated the island. By some accounts the fact that the 3.4 million citizens were without power nearly a month and a half after landfall made it the biggest power outage in U.S. history.

A September 2017 poll found that 54 percent of adults in this country did not realize that people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States since 1899 with the end of the Spanish-American War.