House Democrats are demanding a hearing on the Trump administration's recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after a Harvard study
estimated the island's death toll after Hurricane Maria may be 70 times greater than the government's official tally.
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, joined 13 other Congress members on the House Natural Resources Committee
in a letter Monday to Chairman Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah. In a statement, Soto
said he and his fellow Democrats want an investigation into the Trump administration's "mishandling" of the federal response in Puerto Rico.
"Hurricane Maria took close to 4,600 American lives, the electrical grid is still not fully repaired, and with hurricane season now upon us, time is of the essence," he said.
Although the Puerto Rican government's official death
toll stands at 64 fatalities, researchers in the U.S. and on the island calculated that an estimated 4,645 people died
on the island in Maria's catastrophic aftermath using household surveys. Researchers say this estimate of "excess deaths" is a conservative – the number may closer to more than 5,000 deaths.
"This staggering loss of American life and the significant variance from officially reported figures points to the need for further oversight," the letter stated. "Thousands of Puerto Ricans may have lost their lives because of insufficient access to transportation, electricity and medical care in the months following the hurricane – a death toll that could have been considerably reduced with a more robust and timely federal response."
Democratic lawmakers say it is "imperative" to learn more about the recovery efforts involved in the country's third-costliest storm with over $90 billion in damage.
"It is our responsibility to be honest about the shortcoming of the Trump Administration's response to this disaster, provide answers to the Puerto Rican people and take immediate steps to correct any outstanding inadequacies," according to the letter.
Stay on top of Orlando news and views. Sign up for our weekly Headlines newsletter.