Puerto Rico

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.

 

 

No electricity? Relax…Florida pot operator opens shop in Puerto Rico

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Photo courtesy Knox Medical

Knox Medical Puerto Rico, affiliated with a Miami-based Florida medical marijuana operator, opened its first dispensary in Puerto Rico this week.

“This modern facility meets our high standards for compliance and quality of the patient experience. Starting today, Knox Medical will be offering an unrivaled level of service to more than 15,000 certified patients in Puerto Rico,” José J. Hidalgo, founder and CEO of Knox Medical and Cansortium Holdings, said in a press release.

The dispensary is located in San Juan, and Knox Medical’s cultivation and processing operations are in Barranquitas, according to the release.

Patients from Florida and other states visiting the island can purchase medical marijuana after presenting a valid MMJ ID card to the Puerto Rico Department of Cannabis, also per the release.

Knox Medical is one of 13 licensed medical marijuana operators in Florida. Its Florida grow operations are located in Winter Garden, and the company has dispensaries in Gainesville, Orlando, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Lake Worth and St. Petersburg.

 

 

 

Siempre Levine – en español y inglés – y Puerto Rico

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat who is running for governor, launched a bilingual TV ad, featuring Levine’s trip to storm-torn Puerto Rico.

The ad, “Siempre,” or “Always,” — in which Levine pledges to “always be with Puerto Rico” includes grainy black-and-white footage from his visit to the island after Hurricane Maria. The ad will run for five weeks in select markets, according to a press release from his campaign.

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.

 

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.

 

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

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Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, with Evelio Otero, on Oct. 4. Otero collected more than 2 million pounds of goods for Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is headed to Puerto Rico today in conjunction with a relief effort organized by Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Today’s flight will be the second to Ponce by Cruz, a Tampa Democrat whose ex-husband has family members on the island. She returned from her previous tour in tears, saying she was horrified by the dire conditions Puerto Ricans were living after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

Weeks after the storm ravaged the island, more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power and about a third don’t have water.

According to a press release issued by Cruz’s office this morning, the group will deliver 30,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water and medical necessities.

Cruz and the others also plan to bring back tissue samples “currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research” along with cancer patients and a group of nuns displaced by the storm.

“After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other,” Cruz said in the release. “We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. I’m proud to have found such incredible partners in Major League Baseball, the Rays, and Moffitt to help aide in this effort.”

Last week, Cruz visited a Tampa warehouse where volunteers, led by Evelio Otero, were collecting items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the storm.