It has been almost two months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and inhabitants were forced to deal with its laundry list of impacts. After months of dealing with red-tape and neglect, Puerto Rican residents are now dealing with what many on social media are criticizing as inadequate food aid. All of which, many are claiming, is coming to them from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the form of Cheez-Its, Snickers bars, and canned sausages.
Here’s what the food packages look like as well as FEMA’s response to the complaints.
According to images of the boxes that the food rations were delivered in, the foods provided “fit” certain specifications.
— Sujei =) (@sujeilugo) November 10, 2017
One image from a family member of a survivor revealed a box that suggested that the canned meat equated to an entrée. The packs of Cheez-Its served as starch, the Air Heads candies met fruit requirements, and the Baby Ruth candy bars were dessert. The snack packs are being distributed on the island to people who have been waiting for government-issued food to help in their own recovery.
People in Puerto Rico have been sharing images of the food packages that they’ve been receiving from the government agency, FEMA.
My Parents received this box pic.twitter.com/GVJawMYyEg
— Glory Torres (@lanenaborikua) November 13, 2017
mitú reached out to FEMA for information about the snack packs. The agency explained that it was not involved in the orders or purchases of the snack packs sent to aid the island’s recovery. Rather, the agency said that the food packages are coming from a variety of local agencies, which include the Defense Logistics Agency. FEMA’s only involvement with the snack packs is in their distribution. Ron Roth, a spokesperson from the agency, also spoke to mitú and said that in addition to delivering the snack packs, the agency is also involved in delivering ready-to-eat meals to residents on the island.
Roth further explained the way in which the emergency response agency works with contracted companies to provide food packages in case of emergencies.
“While a list of contracts for supplying meals is not currently available, FEMA’s contracting process identifies companies capable of providing several approaches to appropriately feeding disaster survivors,” said Roth. “One of these approaches in Puerto Rico has used ‘snack packs’ previously ordered and stockpiled by the Defense Logistics Agency. These snacks are not meant to replace full meals.”
In addition to local agencies, these companies also include nongovernmental organizations and private contractors who work to organize and send food to victims of natural disasters quickly.
Roth said that FEMA is aware of the social media backlash and that FEMA is working to validate the claims of only receiving snack packs.
The same in Camino Nuevo, Yabucoa, last October 13. pic.twitter.com/MEHEzMdtRN
— Jorge Figueroa Loza (@jorgefloza) November 13, 2017
These snack packs have made their way to the Puerto Rican people since October through the Defense Logistics system, according to Roth. The spokesperson further explained that FEMA contracts vendors that can provide full meals for disaster victims. “FEMA is committed to providing stable and nutritious meals to the citizens of Puerto Rico,” Roth said. “Early on in the disaster 18 school locations were set up to provide morning and noon meals seven days a week. This is in addition to the ongoing wide range of meals already being provided to survivors by the government of Puerto Rico, FEMA and the numerous volunteer agencies feeding Puerto Ricans across the island.”
Along with ensuring these snack packs are delivered to victims, Roth made clear that FEMA includes works to ensure food rations meet customary requirements. “FEMA’s general contract language calls for full meals to provide foods composed of starches, vegetables, and protein,” Roth said. “They should have over 700 calories and be culturally appropriate for Puerto Rico with proper utensils.”
According to Roth, the crisis in Puerto Rico has posed the “largest emergency food and water distribution effort” in FEMA history.
After 4 weeks of no food or water in aid my family in Cabo Rojo received 2 cans of beefaroni & crackers! I wrote about it on Facebook and a volunteer vet from a relief team apologized & posted this pic and said he felt bad giving care packages like this out. pic.twitter.com/JlJqVgN87a
— Carla Ramos (@Lucysbabygirl) November 13, 2017
“Requests for meal deliveries are declining as supermarkets and other parts of the private sector continue to reopen, providing survivors additional ways to feed their families,” Roth said. “More work still needs to be done, however, and all these efforts together will continue the progress we’ve made.”
If you or a loved one has only received snack packs and not full meals, FEMA’s representative recommends contacting local officials or contacting FEMA so that they can address the issue. The number for disaster victims to contact FEMA is 1-800-621-3362.