U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Fla., has invited Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, a 30-year-old from Puerto Rico who relocated with his wife and two young children to central Florida after Hurricane Maria, as her guest to President Trump’s first State of the Union address on Jan. 30, 2018. Murphy invited Ortiz in order to highlight the education, health, and housing challenges facing displaced families, and to call on President Trump and Congress to act with a sense of urgency to help U.S. states and territories directly affected by recent disasters and to support states like Florida that have welcomed families displaced by those disasters.
“Emmanuel and I will emphasize the challenges that displaced American citizens from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands face in central Florida, particularly when it comes to educating their children, getting quality health care, and finding affordable housing. We will also highlight the dire needs of Americans still living on those islands today,” said Murphy. “Displaced Americans like Emmanuel and his family have confronted adversity with tremendous courage, and it’s important to listen to their stories and understand their struggles. In tough times, Americans are there for each other, which is why Congress and the President must act with the urgency this situation demands.”
While living in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Mr. Ortiz-Nazario owned a small family business, but was forced to close it after the storm. He now works full-time at an Orlando furniture store. Mr. Ortiz-Nazario will be accompanied on his trip to Washington, D.C., by his wife Cristalimar Torres-Rodriguez and their two children, a son in the fifth grade and a daughter in pre-kindergarten, both of whom attend public schools in Orange County. Ms. Torres-Rodriguez has been volunteering in her central Florida community to help other displaced families from Puerto Rico. The family has been temporarily living in a hotel since they arrived in Orlando, and will soon move into an apartment.
“It is an honor for my family and me to represent our beautiful people. It is a unique opportunity in life and I will give 110 percent effort to show the world that Puerto Ricans are people that, no matter how difficult the situation, keep moving forward—and that we know how to survive and to adjust to any change,” said Ortiz-Nazario.
The family will be joined in Washington, DC by Father José Rodriguez of Jesús de Nazaret (Jesus of Nazareth) Episcopal Church in Orlando, which has been providing assistance to displaced families from Puerto Rico and helping them find employment.
Murphy has worked in Congress to help families affected by the recent hurricanes. She has led a successful bipartisan initiative to support school districts and universities in Florida and other states that enroll displaced students, so they can provide a high-quality education to both new students and existing students. As a result of her efforts, the House passed disaster relief legislation that includes $2.9 billion in education-related funding. The bill, now pending in the Senate, would provide school districts with $8,500 for each displaced student it enrolls, $9,000 if the student is an English-language learner, and $10,000 if the student has disabilities. School districts can use this funding to pay and hire teachers; purchase classroom supplies and lease additional classroom space; tutor, mentor and counsel students; and provide transportation services to and from school. Florida schools have already enrolled over 11,000 displaced students from Puerto Rico and other disaster-stricken areas, including Mr. Ortiz-Nazario’s two children.
Murphy is also spearheading a bipartisan effort to help U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico continue their Medicare or Medicaid coverage when they relocate to Florida or another state. At the request of Murphy and Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, the federal government published a fact sheet in English and Spanish that provides guidance to displaced individuals trying to obtain health care services when they move to the states. The fact sheet also provides information for health care providers, insurers, and state and local government officials as they work to help displaced families.
Finally, Murphy, Senator Nelson and Florida Rep. Darren Soto introduced legislation, the Disaster Displacement Act. Because the infusion of new residents from Puerto Rico is aggravating the already-limited access to affordable housing in central Florida, this bill would authorize local housing authorities to seek additional funding under a variety of existing federal housing programs. The local housing authorities could use this funding to help residents rent or buy housing that meets their needs.