FEMA

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).

 

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.

 

Nelson asks feds to extend emergency housing for Irma victims

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants President Donald Trump’s administration to extend short-term housing benefits for residents displaced by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Southwest Florida before wreaking havoc across the state.

Nelson, a Democrat who may be facing a re-election challenge from Gov. Rick Scott next year, asked FEMA Administrator Brock Long to extend the Transitional Assistance Program (TSA), which pays for housing such as hotel rooms.

The housing aid is “critical for individuals rebuilding their lives,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Long today.

Some of the housing benefits are set to expire as early as this weekend, according to Nelson.

“After living through one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in this country, it is cruel to make Floridians fret over having to abandon their living situation for the second time, all because of a short-term deadline set by the government. I urge you to extend the assistance period and provide additional relief to those recovering from the storm,” Nelson wrote.

 

Speaker Paul Ryan after touring Florida Irma damage: “We are in it with you”

9mb8BeqW7i_wGqwe

After touring the wreckage caused by Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville and the Keys, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan assured Floridians that he’s got their backs.

“America loves Florida. I gotta just tell ya,” Ryan, flanked by bipartisan representatives of Florida’s congressional delegation and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, told a gaggle of reporters at an airport hangar in Miami.

The group’s tour took place as Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, leaving 100 percent of the island — still reeling from Irma — without power.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a young guy. I’ve been fishing in the back bay, in Florida Bay behind Islamorada since my early 20s. My mom is a resident of Broward County. And so we want Floridians to know that they, too are in the front of our thoughts and our prayers, that the federal response will be there. That’s why we are here.”

The Florida lawmakers brought the House speaker (and other congressional budget leaders) down to witness first-hand Irma’s widespread impact, Rubio said.

“We know there’s going to be money needed to help the state of Florida recover,” Rubio said. “We wanted him to see it.

The assessment apparently worked, with Ryan pledging bipartisan support for rebuilding Florida, “whether it’s structures or businesses or agriculture or everything in between.”

“More is going to occur. More is coming,” he said. “We want the people of Florida to know that we are in it with you, that the federal response will be complete and that we have more work to do and that’s why we’re here, to assess this.”

Ryan called the damage to Florida “really astounding” after flying over Miami and the Keys, where Irma initially made landfall Sunday before coming ashore again in the southwest region of the state.

Ryan marveled that the massive storm affected nearly every part of Florida.

“What’s impressive is the response and what is needed is more aid and more help,” he said. “We know the federal government has a very important role to play here.”