NEW BRITAIN - U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty met with community leaders and city and state officials Friday afternoon to discuss the federal government’s hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Before asking representatives about their experiences and needs in the city, Esty gave an update on the federal effort to increase aid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Esty said the Office of Management and Budget is expected to submit its third supplemental request for aid by early December.
“We want to make sure that request focuses on long-term issues,” Esty said, adding that certain states taking in families and students may need increased financial aid from the government.
Part of the aid relates to the need for Spanish-speaking professionals to help families and students assimilate.
Esty also said she and some of her peers are hoping to suspend the Jones Act indefinitely. That piece of legislation, enacted in the 1920s, requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be sent on an American-built ship, American-owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
As a result, Puerto Rican citizens often have to pay more for basic goods.
The Jones Act was suspended by the Trump administration after Hurricane Maria, but that was only temporary.
“I think it needs to be suspended through the duration of the rebuilding, and then we should actually revisit what the implications of that are for Puerto Rico’s economy,” Esty said.
State Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, said one of the issues he’s heard about from constituents is housing. Many families come from Puerto Rico to the area and stay with family, but that is not always a permanent housing solution.
Esty said the federal government is still coordinating with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on how to fund housing for displaced hurricane victims.
Alderman Kristian Rosado asked if there is anything the government could do regarding certifications. Puerto Ricans, she said, often move to Connecticut or other states only to find that certification for training they received in Puerto Rico isn’t valid in their new home.
Sanchez said he’s also heard concerns about certification, notably from barbers.
“I’ve getting a lot of calls from barbershops here in New Britain who want to give jobs to people that have come from Puerto Rico, who have certification in Puerto Rico,” Sanchez said, adding that these certifications don’t carry over.
Federal changes to the country’s apprenticeship guidelines would have to be changed to allow Puerto Rican workers to practice their trade here legally.
Alderwoman-Elect Iris Sanchez, Alderman-Elect Robert Reyes, School Superintendent Nancy Sara and New Britain Puerto Rican Society President Magaly DeJesus were also present at Friday’s discussion.
Esty suggested reaching out to the many religious organizations and communities in the city for help dealing with incoming families.
“Americans are very generous, big-hearted people,” Esty said.
Esty also emphasized the importance of contacting local leaders and her office for help. People coming to Connecticut from hurricane-affected areas should register with FEMA, she said.
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