In Reversal, FEMA Says It Won't End Puerto Rico Food And Water Distribution Wednesday : The Two-Way The agency says it has been working on transitioning distribution to the Puerto Rican government but has not finalized it. Wednesday's date "was mistakenly provided," a spokesman said.
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In Reversal, FEMA Says It Won't End Puerto Rico Food And Water Distribution Wednesday

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In Reversal, FEMA Says It Won't End Puerto Rico Food And Water Distribution Wednesday

In Reversal, FEMA Says It Won't End Puerto Rico Food And Water Distribution Wednesday

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There is a new development in Puerto Rico's months-long recovery from Hurricane Maria. On Monday, NPR reported that FEMA plans to end distribution of food and water for Puerto Rico. The agency told us that starting January 31 - that's today - they would hand that effort off to Puerto Rico's government. The timetable came as news to the government of Puerto Rico and to lawmakers in Congress. So now FEMA says its announcement was premature. The agency says its distribution efforts on the island will continue. NPR's Adrian Florido is with us from San Juan. Hey.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So explain what's happening here.

FLORIDO: Right. So when I communicated with FEMA last week, the agency was very clear about what its plans were, and that is that, one, it was, as of today, no longer shipping new food and water to Puerto Rico and, two, that it was also handing the food and water that it still has on the island over to the Puerto Rican government so that the Puerto Rican government could finish distributing it. So then our story comes out. It gets the attention of some members of Congress. And today, FEMA says, oops, we never should have told you we were ending our distributions because those plans haven't been finalized yet, and that date wasn't quite right. So it says that for now, its distribution of food and water on the island is going to continue.

MCEVERS: Well, until when? I mean, does it have a date? Does it have a firm date for when it will stop delivering aid?

FLORIDO: Right. So I just want to be clear about sort of the delivery of aid. The shipment of new food and water to Puerto Rico has already ended, and that's not going to resume, according to the agency - what the agency told me. The agency thinks there's no longer very much need for it because grocery stores are reopening and that sort of thing. So there's some normalcy returning to parts of the island.

MCEVERS: Right.

FLORIDO: What the agency is still working on is this plan to hand the rest of its supplies over to the Puerto Rican government so that FEMA can move on to do other longer term recovery - right - not emergency stuff. And so the agency said it's still working on this plan with the Puerto Rican government, on this transition, to decide exactly when that's going to happen. But there's no firm date yet.

MCEVERS: What is Puerto Rico's government saying about all this?

FLORIDO: So yesterday after our story, the island's public security secretary, who has a big role in the recovery efforts here, said that he had not been told in this timetable and said that it was much too soon for the Puerto Rican government to be responsible for handing out food aid. His office issued a new statement today saying they'd gotten in touch with FEMA and that everyone agreed that FEMA should continue distributing food and water while the need still persists.

MCEVERS: I mean, what does all of this tell us about the bigger state of just relief in Puerto Rico since this hurricane?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean, so, Kelly, I mean, you know, like, the disaster relief in Puerto Rico is complicated. Why? Because, you know, you've got an island that's had no electricity for months. You've got some places with no running water. Not all the roads are passable. And then you've got all of these agencies - federal and Puerto Rican and municipal and nonprofits - and 78 mayors, and they're vying for limited resources while facing pressure from their constituencies to get the lights back on.

MCEVERS: Right.

FLORIDO: So there's just a lot of pressure all around. And so because of this, there's, like, not often very good communication between all of these players. And, frankly, it's just hard to get everyone operating out of the same playbook, and that's something that we've seen time after time in the four months since the storm.

MCEVERS: NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thank you so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Kelly.

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