Friday, January 19, 2018

After Puerto Rico visit, Florida Sen. Nelson and Rep. Soto say funding parity needed

By on December 29, 2017

SAN JUAN – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) traveled again to Puerto Rico Wednesday to get a firsthand look at the ongoing recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane María, which is blamed for taking the lives of about 1,ooo people, dismantling the island’s electrical grid and damaging nearly half a million homes in its path across the island on Sept. 20.

They toured hospitals, manufacturing facilities and emergency operations “to get an update on the progress,” Soto wrote on his Facebook page, as well as meeting with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and former Govs. Pedro Rosselló and Alejandro García Padilla.

Following a tour of a Bayamón hospital, Florida’s Spectrum News 13 reports, Soto said, “There’s water damage that’s leaking through. The whole top floor, which is 40 of their 100-bed facility, is unusable,” adding, “They just got off a generator recently, and that’s a hospital that serves over half a million people in Puerto Rico.

“These are the types of things that additional resources in the sense of urgency and Congress is going to need to happen, along with the Trump administration, to really get these emergency facilities back up and running.”

After the trip, Soto met Thursday with the the Task Force on Puerto Rico Arrivals to Central Florida, which he created last week to address the housing, education, employment and healthcare issues that the growing Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida faces.

Last week, Soto led a bipartisan letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator William B. Long, urging the agency to approve the expansion of the Direct Lease program or for an extension to the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, for the Puerto Rican evacuees residing in Central Florida. The state has received nearly 270,000 Puerto Ricans since the hurricane.

Orlando NPR programming provider 90.7 WMFE, a non-profit, quoted Nelson as saying that “the exodus [of Puerto Ricans to the states] will continue. If you can’t get the stores open because you don’t have electricity people aren’t going to have jobs, and they need to provide for their families.”

The senator had advocated for Puerto Rico while the Republican tax reform bill was being hashed out.

He criticized the legislation for not extending the same benefits to Puerto Ricans as to other mainland families. Not included in the measure was a plan to expand the child tax credit for Puerto Ricans. Stateside families will be able to deduct $2,000 per child. “But that amount is graduated based on federal taxes paid, and that means a smaller deduction for lower income people. Residents of Puerto Rico with fewer than three children will also miss out on the full deduction,” according to a release from Nelson’s office, which adds that “Puerto Ricans should get the same benefits as any other citizens.”

Puerto Rico’s tax code means only certain residents qualify for the credit. Amid the island’s financial crisis and in the aftermath of María, “Puerto Ricans need a tax break as much as anyone,” the release reads.

Back in Florida on Friday, Nelson said, “Puerto Ricans are being kicked around like a dead dog by the activities of the Republicans in Congress,” according to News 13, which adds that Nelson and Soto intend to introduce a bill that changes how the island is treated in the tax reform.

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