The House has passed a bill that would set a standard for tallying the death toll in natural disasters.
The Count Victims Act, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to contract with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a study of matters concerning best practices in mortality counts as a result of a major disaster. A report on the study must be completed and transmitted to FEMA within two years after the contract date of September 30, 2018.
"For months, after Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the local government claimed the death toll was only 64, while anecdotal evidence suggested it was tragically higher,” Velázquez noted. “We also watched as Donald Trump pointed to the artificially low death toll as evidence that his Administration was responding appropriately, when, in reality, a humanitarian catastrophe was befalling our fellow American citizens.”
“How death tolls are tallied shapes the public’s opinion of the severity of disasters and, as such, an artificially low estimate can influence the federal response,” Velázquez added. “For too long, the wildly inaccurate death estimate in Puerto Rico was used to excuse a feeble, ineffective federal response.”