Hurricane María

16 posts

More Difficult Phase of Hurricane Relief Underway

The Hurricane María Disaster Relief Center at Orlando International Airport, seen in November, has helped thousands of Puerto Rican evacuees. /Maria Padilla

The 2018 new year will open a second, more difficult, phase of Hurricane María relief efforts for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, after the new arrivals center at Orlando International Airport closes its doors on December 29.

The shuttering of the facility – which has helped 34,000 mostly Puerto Ricans since it opened October 3, including at  Miami-Dade airport and Port Everglades – will leave Central Florida with two relief centers, one each in Osceola and Seminole counties. Orange County, which partnered with agencies at the airport, is opening a relief center before year’s end.

The assistance needed in the new year will be different from the aid first offered to evacuees, who are escaping unlivable conditions on the island – as of this writing, Puerto Rico has gone nearly 100 days without full electricity, the longest blackout in U.S. history. Orlando-area agencies have to grapple with efforts to help stabilize the lives of evacuees, by definition a thornier initiative, given the lack of available resources, most significantly affordable housing.

Stabilizing Lives

What happens when temporary housing vouchers expire for thousands of people living in motels mostly in Osceola and Orange? Will elected officials continue to point “that-a-way” toward who is responsible for stepping up to the plate? Will they join forces to tackle issues together?

The Hurricane María Disaster Relief Center, as the center is officially known, was an extraordinary move by gubernatorial executive order but it didn’t come with state dollars attached. Each agency has borne the cost of its involvement.

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Dueling Numbers on Puerto Rican Migration

Dueling signs, dueling numbers – The number of Puerto Rican migrants to Florida since the hurricanes hit seems impossibly high. /Maria Padilla

Dueling numbers on Puerto Rican migration since the hurricanes hit have generated questions about the actual numbers who have landed in Florida.

Puerto Rican evacuees in Florida have surpassed the 200,000 mark, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office in a press release dated November 29 that cites the number of arrivees since October 3. But the figures beg for more scrutiny and explanation of – not because things are markedly better in Puerto Rico. They are not. Electric power is still an on-and-off thing, as is water, and many schools remain closed. Not because it’s impossible for so many people to have left on a jet plane. It is not.

In fact, the Puerto Rican migration hit historic highs even before the twin hurricanes of Irma and María set the island back 30 years, with about 500,000 leaving since the Great Recession, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York.

The migration numbers require closer inspection because they seem impossibly high. While it is true the Florida is seeing an influx of Puerto Ricans post Hurricane María, is it likely that over 200,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida in just two months?  The state estimates do not compute with other forecasts, such as by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

Of course, “real” numbers won’t be available until the census counts head by head, nose by nose, an exercise that is over two years away.  Let’s do some adding and subtracting for argument’s sake.

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Former PREPA Chief Blames Government Bureaucracy

Former PREPA chief Ricardo Ramos testifies before the U.S. Senate on the island’s political patronage system. / C-SPAN screen shot

Three days before Ricardo Ramos resigned as chief of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, he blamed the government bureaucracy as a critical source of PREPA’s incompetence.

In a moment that received little attention and which is best described as the embattled Ramos’ cri de coeur,  he told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee member Sen. Mike Lee of Utah that “over 50 percent” of PREPA’s employment comprised political appointees – not the kind nominated by the governor but the kind elected officials of every political stripe in Puerto Rico utilize to provide employment for their people or mi gente.

For politicians, PREPA “even in its current bankruptcy is like the jewel of the crown in Puerto Rico,” Ramos said, adding “PREPA traditionally has been a company where politicians or parts of government can get their family members to get work.”

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Governor Offers No Answers for Puerto Rico Evacuees

Gov. Rick Scott had no answers to pressing questions about Puerto Rico evacuees.

Gov. Rick Scott’s meeting with local officials to talk about Puerto Rico evacuees didn’t satisfy anyone looking for answers to questions about homelessness, housing, schools, jobs and transportation.

It’s not cheap welcoming over 140,000 evacuees to Florida, as Scott has done, and each level of government is eyeing the other for spending monies – cities are looking to counties, which in turn are looking to the state. Florida is looking to the federal government. Scott talks about “collaboration” among governments, pushing the issue down the totem pole without $$$.

At last week’s conference, Scott said it was up to local government to choose from available options, “because they have better information than anybody does at the state and federal level.” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials added that its housing options– housing is the most critical issue for evacuees –  are limited because the hurricane disaster didn’t happen here.

To make matters worse, Scott’s proposed 2018-2019 state budget continues to raid housing trust funds – to the tune of $92 million, the Miami Herald reported – at a time when Florida needs those dollars the most for victims of Hurricanes Irma and evacuees from Hurricane María.

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