ICYMI: Orlando Sentinel: Commentary: Puerto Ricans in Florida deserve better, national Demo
June 14, 2018
Orlando Sentinel: Commentary: Puerto Ricans in Florida deserve better, national Democratic Party leader says
By Tom Perez
June 13, 2018
When I visited Puerto Rico last fall, I witnessed hardship unlike anything I’d ever seen. Homes destroyed. Businesses washed away. Families searching for loved ones amid the wreckage of the lives they once knew.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Orlando to spend more time with some of the families displaced by Hurricane Maria. I listened to their stories of suffering and their pleas for support, and I heard from community leaders and elected officials about what they’re doing to help the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans relocating to the mainland.
The common thread in these conversations is that Gov. Rick Scott and the Trump administration have not done nearly enough to help these families. They have struggled to fulfill even the most basic needs, like housing, food, and medication. And some of our most vulnerable citizens – children, older Americans, and people with disabilities – have borne the brunt of these failures.
I met a family of 14 in Kissimmee who has been staying in motels since Nov. 22. FEMA will only support their stay until June 30; then they’re on their own, without knowing what’s next. The family’s grandmother told me how difficult it has been to get medicine for her and her husband, both of whom require treatment that costs thousands of dollars a month. Because they left Puerto Rico, they lost their eligibility for Medicaid, and she showed us a bag of empty medicine bottles that she and her husband haven’t been able to refill since January. That’s wrong and unacceptable.
Other evacuees told me about the struggles they’ve faced finding work because they may not speak perfect English or because they can’t leave their children alone and don’t have access to child care. Millions more remain in Puerto Rico without reliable electricity service or other resources they need to rebuild the communities they lost. And we just learned a few days ago that the death toll after the hurricane could be much higher than anyone thought.
This kind of suffering is unconscionable. But it was not inevitable. So much of the hardship we’ve seen could have been prevented or alleviated if this administration had acted swiftly to aid our fellow citizens instead of considering the job done before it started. This month the 2018 hurricane season began and we’re not sure all measures to prevent a new tragedy have been taken.
The families I spoke with are grateful for the support and hospitality they’ve received from communities in Florida. But unless there’s action from the federal government to extend housing aid and expand resources, their future is as uncertain as it was the day the hurricane made landfall.
These are American citizens who need shelter. These are families who need child care and health care, children who need to go to school and parents who need good-paying jobs. These are human beings who need and deserve decency and dignity from their government.
We must do better. In the aftermath of one of the worst hurricanes in American history, this administration has failed millions of its citizens. But while I have little confidence in our president to do what’s right, the courage of the families I’ve met fills me with hope. They represent the best of America, and they aren’t giving up.
A hurricane may have washed away their homes, but it could not wash away their American identity. In fact, one of the most vivid images I took with me from my visit to Puerto Rico last October was of an American flag, waving in the wind above a row of homes destroyed by the storm.
As citizens, one of the greatest tools we have to make change is the right to vote, and the Puerto Ricans I met are eager to exercise it. They are demanding better leadership from their government.
That’s why I came to Orlando, and that’s why the Democratic National Committee is proud to partner with and invest in the Florida Democratic Party with a grant to help them identify and contact Puerto Rican evacuees and give them the support they need – including helping them register to vote and understand how their voices count in local and national elections. We’ve also partnered with Luis Miranda Jr. and the MirRam Group to learn more about the best messages and messengers for these important organizing efforts.
Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico deserve better than Rick Scott, Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress. They deserve better than a government that abandons them in times of tragedy. And come November, they will have the opportunity to elect the leaders they deserve.