ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – On Friday, April 5th, United States Senator Rick Scott, representing Florida, visited Orlando to participate in a roundtable discussion regarding the current state of Puerto Rico with a variety of faith-based organizations, community organizers and business leaders. Senator Scott led an open dialogue addressing concerns regarding the ongoing struggles that exist in Puerto Rico now over a year-and-a-half since Hurricane Maria, the strongest storm to make landfall in over 90 years, ravaged the island.
Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, knocking out power to more than 3.4 million people. Years of neglect of the infrastructure as well as lax building codes had created the perfect storm on the island for disaster. Today, billions of dollars are being funneled to the island to impact the most basic of infrastructure needs, including power, water, telecommunications and sewer systems. Some conservative estimates indicate it could take 5-10 years and over $200-$300 billion just to get the island back to normal.
The 90-minute roundtable covered the most burning concerns.
Of the $97 billion that has been allotted to help rebuild the island, where is that money and how is it being allocated? Senator Scott discussed concerns he has for nutrition appropriations as well as concerns for health care for seniors. It’s important to remember, the island is literally being rebuilt, in many ways, from the ground up. Which creates opportunity as well as time struggles. There will be cost associated with this far greater than most can comprehend.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Prior to the hurricane there were nearly 15,000 men and women in the police force protecting the citizens of Puerto Rico. Now, as one panelist pointed out, for a variety of reasons there are roughly 3,000 men and women in law enforcement. Many law enforcement officers left the island after the hurricane to find work on the mainland or simply chose to go into other professions. This substantial reduction in law enforcement creates its own challenges in the safety of Puerto Ricans in their communities.
PUERTO RICO IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Bertica Cabrera Morris, a government consultant who has clients in Puerto Rico, reminded the Senator and the panel that Puerto Rico is open for business. Unfortunately, even the rebuilding process is slow because while there is the capability of doing the work within the Puerto Rican workforce, there isn’t a streamlined way of having businesses apply for the construction opportunities and infrastructure redevelopment, making getting the work done timely and effectively nearly impossible. Senator Scott suggested it’s also important for Puerto Rico to define, or redefine, what their primary focus will be in driving their economy. Is it tourism, is it returning to pharmaceutical manufacturing…what will be the economical foundation for which the territory will rebuild?
A highlight of the discussion included a reminder that programs put in place while Scott was Governor of Florida, regarding helping Puerto Ricans become students in schools and colleges on the mainland, were working. As many Puerto Ricans fled their homes to find security and stability on the mainland, enrolling their children in school was a priority. And while many of the students didn’t speak English… adopting and managing language barriers was and remains a priority.
As a follow up, Senator Scott further indicated that he intended to reach out to the Trump Administration to possibly arrange a roundtable in Washington with President Trump so he could more clearly understand concerns people have with commerce and working to improve relations between business and the rebuilding process. Senator Scott also offered to the group his willingness to attend meetings on the island with business leaders if they felt it would in fact open doors and facilitate actual progress in helping rebuild the island. Scott was also open to the discussion of Statehood for Puerto Rico, which was clearly a hot button for many supporters of Statehood in the room.
It was clear the leaders in the room were very pleased with Senator Scott on his past accomplishments and future promise to not forget about Puerto Rico. “They are Americans,” said Scott. Yet, as he pointed out, they have no formal representation in Washington D.C., and can’t even vote for President.
Randy Ross is a political contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org