Senior Citizens update: Puerto Rico. Hurricanes effect on elders

After a lifetime of agricultural work on the U.S. mainland, Ausberto Maldonado retired home to a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. But he has diabetes, and especially since Hurricane Maria, has been struggling to get by.
Sarah Varney/Kaiser Health News
Straddled across Ausberto Maldonado’s backyard in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, a suburb of San Juan, is a nagging reminder of Hurricane Maria’s destructive power.

“See, that tree broke off that branch, which is as thick as a tree — and now it’s in my yard,” says Maldonado, a 65-year-old retiree.

Rats scurry from under the downed tree, preventing Maldonado from hanging his laundry. To get the tree removed, he must show up in person at a local government office. But the diabetic ulcers on his feet make it painful to walk.

After a lifetime of work on the U.S. mainland picking corn and asparagus and processing chickens in poultry plants, Maldonado returned to Puerto Rico a decade ago to help care for his ailing mother, who has since died. Today the retiree finds himself living day-to-day on the island. He receives $280 a month in Social Security and $89 a month in food stamps — or about $3 a day for food.

Six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and its economy, the daily indignities are piling up, especially for people who are frail or elderly. Many are finding their current economic straits nearly as threatening as the storm.

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