hurricanes

Florida lawmakers seek aid for Puerto Rican refugees facing homelessness

puerto-rico-26990_1280U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, joined by a handful of Florida congressmen, are asking FEMA to extend temporary housing assistance to displaced Puerto Ricans seeking shelter in the Sunshine State.

The Florida lawmakers sent a letter today to FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, after FEMA officials told federal lawmakers they plan to cut off Transitional Shelter Assistance, or TSA, to more than 1,600 refugees — including 600 in Florida — as soon as Friday.

The Puerto Rican residents, who are U.S. citizens, fled after Hurricane Maria left the island in tatters.

“At a minimum, the deadline for TSA should coincide with the end of the school year for mainland states,” the lawmakers wrote in Wednesday’s letter. “After Hurricane Maria devastated the island, more than 10,000 students from Puerto Rico enrolled in Florida schools. These children have already had their lives and educational experiences disrupted by a devastating storm and deserve the opportunity to complete their school year.”

The letter was sent on the same day power reportedly went down throughout the island, where before the latest outage more than 50,000 people remained without electricity following the storm six months ago.

From the press release:

FEMA’s TSA program pays hotel owners to provide hotel rooms to displaced victims of a storm. Once FEMA decides it will no longer provide a displaced family with TSA benefits, hotel owners will often evict them from their property.

With some parts of Florida already experiencing a shortage of affordable housing due, in part, to a sudden influx of displaced Puerto Ricans living there since the storm, these sudden evictions could leave some families – who are still unable to return home to Puerto Rico – with nowhere to live.

In addition to Nelson and Rubio, the letter sent today urging FEMA to continue providing assistance to these families was signed by Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Darren Soto (D-FL).

 

¡Queremos nuestras boletas!

A handful of Democratic state legislators are asking Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, to make sure that every county has bilingual ballots on hand during the upcoming election season.

The lawmakers, including Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando, warned Detzner that “failure to accommodate Florida’s large influx of Spanish-speaking American citizens” from Puerto Rico could violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It’s unknown exactly how many Puerto Ricans sought refuge in Florida following Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island in September and left tens of thousands of island dwellers without power even now — six months after the storm.

“Florida is home to over 20 million individuals and more than 4 million of them are of Hispanic or Latino origin,” Torres, who is of Puerto Rican descent, wrote to Detzner. “Additionally, with the influx of evacuees from Puerto Rico, there are an additional 300,000 American citizens who are eligible to vote in this upcoming election cycle.  Providing election information and ballots in Spanish-language are essential for some qualified electors to participate in the 2018 Florida elections process.”

Elections officials in more than a dozen counties said they aren’t going to provide ballots in Spanish, according to the release issued by the Senate Minority Office today. That may put them at odds with Gov. Rick Scott, who’s running for the U.S. Senate and has gone out of his way to court the Puerto Rican community, in Florida and on the island.

“Florida has a long history of failing to accommodate citizens whose native language may be other than English,” Torres said in the release. “With more than 4 million Hispanics now living in Florida, there is no excuse for not providing election services to citizens in the language with which they feel most confident.”

More from the Senate Minority Office press release today:

The letter, signed by Senators Torres, Annette Taddeo, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Linda Stewart, and Representatives Robert Asencio, John Cortes, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Amy Mercado, follows efforts last week by several Hispanic and civil right organizations, including Demos and Latino Justice, calling for 13 of Florida’s 67 Supervisor of Election offices who are not currently supplying election materials and information in Spanish-language format to do so under requirements of the Federal Voting Rights Act. Their letter similarly asserts that under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, bilingual ballots, election materials and poll worker assistance should be provided to America citizens whose primary language is Spanish.

The lawmakers are seeking reassurances that federal law will be obeyed.

“We are requesting that you respond to the allegations that some Supervisor of Elections offices may be in violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act by failing to provide required Spanish-language elections materials.  We further request you outline any plans your office has to ensure that no qualified electors are discouraged from exercising their Constitutional rights to participate in the 2018 election due to a failure of the local Supervisor of Elections to provide this information,” they wrote.

 

 

Scott pitches Florida budget — to Congress

The day after rolling out his state spending proposal, Gov. Rick Scott — who’s widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year — urged Congress Wednesday to include money in the federal budget:

  • Florida agriculture in future disaster funding;
  • Speed repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
  • repay the state for helping displaced Puerto Ricans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Over the past two months, as Florida has responded to and now recovers from this devastating storm, we have identified critical areas in which the support of the federal government is essential to our full recovery,” Scott wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today.

The letter outlining the need for federal assistance also highlights Scott’s $21 million 2018 state budget request for the citrus industry, the $50 million he’s asking state lawmakers for the dike, and the $12 million he’s proposing to assist students that need help learning English.

Read the letter here.

By Jim Turner.

 

Cruz and Co. and 1 million pounds of goods

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Rep. Janet Cruz and Evelio Otero

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is among the state lawmakers who’ve traveled to Puerto Rico to witness first-hand the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.

Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, has also participated in an all-volunteer effort led by retired Air Force Captain Evelio Ortero, of the non-profit “Course of Action PR.” Ortero’s amassed millions of pounds of items ranging from wheelchairs to pet food at a Tampa warehouse, helped by hundreds of volunteers — many of them, like Cruz, with connections to folks on the island.

Cruz and Ortero will be joined by veteran lobbyist Chuck Hinson, who’s TECO’s VP of state and community relations, and Smita Patel, chairwoman of the 2017 India Festival Tampa Bay, at a press conference on Monday.

The press conference will focus on a “commemoration” of the shipment of more than one million pounds of relief supplies on a barge headed for Ponce, Puerto Rico.

“The barge will be delivering food, water, and other essential necessities for our American neighbors still struggling to recover from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The supplies had been housed in Tampa and were transported to Jacksonville last week, where the barge will depart from today,” a press release announcing Monday’s press conference said.

The press conference will be at 2 p.m. at the warehouse, 4916 S. Lois Ave., in Tampa.

 

Voters give Scott high marks for Irma, but thumbs down on evacs

Gov. Rick Scott scored high marks from Floridians for his handling of Hurricane Irma, but a new poll showed that his demands for mass evacuations may result in fewer people hitting the road the next time a storm threatens the Sunshine State’s shores.

A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll released Wednesday found Scott received “excellent” marks from 35 percent of the 625 registered Florida voters interviewed statewide in telephone surveys from Oct. 17 to Oct. 19. Another 31 percent described Scott’s storm response as “good.”

Another 25 percent graded Scott as “fair,” with 4 percent listing him actions as “poor” and 5 percent unsure.

Not surprisingly, his fellow Republicans gave Scott higher marks, with 89 percent of GOP respondents giving the governor “excellent” or “good” grades. Only 49 percent of Democrats polled put Scott in those top categories, while 62 percent of independents considered his handling of the storm “excellent” or “good.”

Scott has taken heat for a hike in debris removal rates in the Florida Keys, and for deleting voicemail messages from officials with The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home in Broward County. The calls were made as residents, many of them elderly, overheated after the facility lost air conditioning due to the deadly storm. Fourteen residents eventually died.

But voters’ overall satisfaction with how Scott managed the storm — which impacted nearly every part of the state after making landfall in the Florida Keys on Sept. 10 — can’t be good for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is likely to face-off against the governor in his bid for re-election next year.

A University of North Florida poll of registered Florida voters released Monday put Nelson and Scott in a near dead heat, with 37 percent supporting Nelson and 36 percent for Scott. Another 20 percent undecided.

More importantly, the statewide poll by the school’s Public Opinion Research Lab, found that nearly half of the voters queried — 49 percent — couldn’t say how Nelson is doing as senator, a position he’s held since 2001. The poll, conducted from Oct. 11-17, had a 3.39 percentage point margin of error.

The Mason-Dixon poll, conducted via landline and cell phones, had a 4-percentage point margin of error.

Among those polled, 10 percent reported “very serious” property damage, while 50 percent suffered little or no property damage from the storm.

Those figures, along with the shifting storm track that put many evacuees into the eventual path of Irma, could help explain the reluctance to evacuate from the next storm revealed by the polling outfit.

“Next time round could be a different story, as many Floridians indicate they will rethink their actions,” Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker stated in a release. “Statewide, only 57% say that they will follow an evacuation order in the face of a hurricane similar in strength to Irma.”

The state has estimated that about 6 million people were ordered to evacuate, but it’s unknown how many actually took to the road. Many people who weren’t under evacuation orders decided to skedaddle.

Among those surveyed, 19 percent were ordered to evacuate and did. From that group, 71 percent said they would pack up for the next storm.

Another 14 percent of those surveyed didn’t heed the evacuation orders they were given. Among them, 19 percent said the next time they would hit the road.

Of those polled, 13 percent did evacuate despite not being in an evacuation zone.  Just over half, 57 of those people would leave home in the next storm.

Finally, of the 54 percent of Floridians polled that stayed put and weren’t told to leave, 62 percent said they “definitely would” evacuate if told to move out before the next storm.

By Jim Turner.

 

 

Rubio, Nelson to Trump admin: Fix roads & bridges in Puerto Rico

Keeping up their bipartisan stance on Puerto Rican aid, Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to make repairs to the island’s roads and bridges.

Damage to the transportation infrastructure is making it harder to get “essential aid and supplies” to Puerto Ricans a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. territory, the senators argued in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and FEMA Director Brock Long.

“Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure,” Nelson, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the administration officials today.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

As you well know, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a major storm that has left the island in disarray.  Now, more than a month later, many citizens continue to lack reliable access to essential aid and supplies due to infrastructure that has been critically damaged or destroyed. We are writing to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to promptly assist and identify interim solutions for Puerto Rico in repairing its damaged roads and bridges.

During our recent visits to Puerto Rico, we witnessed the devastation this storm caused to the island’s infrastructure, including numerous bridges that were damaged or completely destroyed. The hurricane hit rural communities in Puerto Rico’s mountainous interior especially hard, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the island. It has been reported that small communities, such as Charco Abajo in rural Utuado, have resorted to replacing bridges with makeshift pulley systems to ferry supplies across the Vivi River. While the ingenuity on behalf of local residents has helped deliver supplies to areas that federal officials overlooked, it is not a sustainable or safe solution.

What are your agencies’ plans to ensure the delivery of aid to Puerto Rico’s isolated, rural communities in light of this infrastructure damage?

What interim solutions can be enacted to quickly restore access to these communities?

What are the agencies’ plans to help rebuild and repair roads and bridges on the island?

Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

 

Video: Marco Rubio bemoans lack of aid for citrus growers

Florida’s U.S. senators have made a bipartisan pitch for the citrus industry to their colleagues, but it’s unclear whether federal lawmakers will fork over the money to bail out Sunshine State growers devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The state estimates the citrus industry took a $640 million wallop, but ag experts, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, say that damage is actually much higher.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech on the floor yesterday bemoaning the fact that the Florida delegation couldn’t get aid for the citrus growers in the recovery spending bill.

Here’s part of his speech:

“You have the entire Florida delegation in the House in favor of it, and they couldn’t get it in the House bill. You have both senators here for it, it can’t be part of this year because if we change it and go back we’re going to lose time. No one can tell you why it’s not in there, no one can tell you they are against it being in there, but it’s not in there. So you sometimes begin to wonder, I guess you start to understand, why people look at this process and just shake their head.

So unfortunately it looks like that’s been foreclosed and obviously this thing will move forward. Senator Nelson just made that motion, and it was objected to, so it won’t be part of this package. But I just hope we think about those men and women, these families that own these groves—how do you explain this to them? And what happens if they go away? What happens if we lose this critical industry? It won’t just hurt Florida. I think it hurts the country, and I think it sets a precedent for other crops that might be threatened likewise in the future.”