Guest post by Quentin Torbert
After Puerto Rico’s devastation following Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Rican evacuees will find safety in the arms of loved ones living in Tampa. The evacuees could also find comfort in another family: the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.
Maria was relentless to the small island. 155 mile-per-hour winds knocked out electricity leaving thousands without food and water. More than 300,000 evacuees have arrived in Florida since September 2017, many of them coming to Hillsborough County. Many of these evacuees share values with Hillsborough Democrats. We believe in family and community. We support each other in action as well as words. When we come together, we work hard to make sure there is a place for everyone. And we push each other to do the work that is necessary to keep our communities strong. These common values make the Hillsborough County Democratic Party a good fit for Puerto Ricans new to the county.
Local Democrats are already pushing for effective change. US Representative Kathy Castor, whose district covers Tampa and parts of Hillsborough County, created a task force to help displaced Puerto Ricans. The task force is made up of school and county leaders who share a common goal of helping new Puerto Ricans assimilate into Tampa. The task force kicked off with a January 11 meeting where the members tackled initial issues of housing and possible language barriers. Castor is pushing for more funding — especially for housing.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is also pushing for solutions to the housing issue and he has found some traction. Nelson is among a group of lawmakers urging FEMA director Brock Long to approve the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, a program that temporarily provides hotels to families who are unable to return to the island. FEMA’s TSA program will directly pay hotels for temporary lodging. The ultimate goal of the program is to keep families together. Without this assistance, many families may be forced to separate in order to find housing. We can help Senator Nelson in his fight for our Puerto Rican neighbors by pressuring Senator Rubio and members of Congress to take action in support of the many Puerto Ricans who are still struggling on the island.
Nelson’s stand for Puerto Ricans in Florida may be returned in 2018 when Hillsborough residents have a chance to stand with Nelson. He is running for re-election in 2018 and fierce competition is expected from now-Governor Rick Scott. Our new neighbors will also see the efforts of Castor’s task force and know that the Democratic Party stands with them.
Our open arms contrast with the disdain that the Republican president has shown for Puerto Ricans. President Trump made disparaging comments about Puerto Rico’s failing infrastructure and reliance on the US. “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!“. These divisive comments separate Republicans from Democrats in terms of their support for Puerto Ricans.
As Puerto Ricans steadily arrive to Hillsborough County, let us welcome them into our families with sensitivity and acceptance — and voter registration forms.