• Rep. Soto forms Puerto Rico task force in Central Florida after seeing hurricane damage up close

    By: Lauren Seabrook

    Updated:

    KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Rep. Darren Soto announced this week the formation of a bipartisan regional task force on the arrival of tens of thousands of Puerto Rican refugees following the catastrophic damage caused to the island by Hurricane Maria.

    The group, which met for the first time Thursday afternoon, is comprised of Soto and elected officials from Seminole, Osceola and Polk counties.

    During the meeting, Soto and Sen. Bill Nelson described a recent trip to Puerto Rico, where they saw the devastation for themselves.

    >>> Read other stories about Puerto Rico <<<

    “Can you imagine people in the state of Florida going 97 days without electricity?” Nelson asked. “This is what’s facing our fellow American citizens.”

    When Soto and Nelson went to a working hospital on the island, they said water was leaking through the tarped roof and the smell of mold lingered in the hallways.

    “A lot of the doctors and nurses pleaded with us that they are working in conditions that are, in some cases, making people worse,” Soto said.

    More than 250,000 Puerto Rican citizens have already fled the island to Florida, and Soto and Nelson said that based on what they saw, the state can expect many more.

    “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,” Nelson said.

    The U.S. Congress is expecting Puerto Rico to pay for 10 to 25 percent of the recovery cost, an amount that Soto and Nelson said the government there simply cannot afford.

    “It is adding insult to injury,” Nelson said. “In other words, they’re kicking the dead dog again in the way they’re treating the island.”

    The newly formed task force will look into “effective ways to tackle the housing, educational, employment and health care challenges facing new Puerto Ricans in the area,” the group said in a statement.

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