More than three months after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, there are thousands on the island still without power and basic necessities and nearly 300,000 people have come to Florida seeking refuge.
Questions about how Florida is helping the relief efforts and absorbing those who have fled the hurricane-ravaged island were put to Florida Gov. Rick Scott at a round table on Tuesday.
At the empty Doral campus of Albizu University, Puerto Rican business owners, humanitarian volunteers and a mother who relocated from the island asked Scott questions about how he has been working with FEMA and other federal agencies to help the recovery efforts. They asked about how the new tax plan might affect the rebuilding and what can be done about the Jones Act, which has been a challenge for getting supplies there.
Many members of the round table hinted at the fact that Scott is thought to be considering a run for Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat in Congress. Several people intimated that a Puerto Rican voting block would not forget the governor’s efforts on their behalf.
"We're here and we're coming more and more and more," said Adriana Rivera, a Puerto Rican who lives in South Florida.
Scott said he would bring concerns about federal programs to the respective departments and make it easier for local services to continue to welcome more Puerto Ricans.
“Let's keep doing everything we can to help them get back to a normal life as fast as we can,” said Scott after the round table. “They all have dreams, they have children that know they want to get an education so they can live the dream of this country; they want jobs.”
He said the state had done a good job of trying to add the thousands that have come into the job force and the schools.
Grisel Robles flew to Florida three days after Hurricane Maria hit with her then 4-month-old daughter Emma. She was later met by her husband who has been able to get a job as an EMT.
“Everyone wants to help; it was so smooth. It was hard the first two months, but now we are getting used to it,” said Robles.
Despite being welcomed by the Fort Lauderdale community where she now lives, Robles said she has had trouble getting her nursing license recognized by employers. Gov. Scott assured her he would wade into the matter as he has with other licensing issues.
At this point the family plans to stay.
She says, “we are Floridians.”