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Connecticut Officials Eager To Boost Puerto Rican Recovery

Carlos Giusti
AP Photo
Homes are damaged after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn, killing one man, injuring others and collapsing buildings in the southern part of the island.

The impact of the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico is now being felt in Connecticut -- at least when it comes to helping those who had to leave the island.

About 175 students have fled Puerto Rico in order to enroll in Connecticut schools since a string of earthquakes rattled the island beginning in December.

It carries echoes of another disaster-related event that sent a wave of student evacuees to Connecticut. Over 2,000 students migrated to the state after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.

“Now, some of this might be due to infrastructure issues; some of it might be just the trauma,” Miguel Cardona, commissioner of the state Department of Education, said of the latest influx. “Keep in mind, many of these students remember Hurricane Maria vividly and are leaving the island for a sense of peace and safety.”

According to the state, Hartford and Waterbury have combined to take in at least 100 of the 175 new Puerto Rican student evacuees.

Cardona said his department is monitoring the number of students coming in and is looking to determine their level of need in the event state and federal help is needed.

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Miguel Cardona, Connecticut's Department of Education commissioner, said Monday that the state has taken in at least 175 student evacuees since a string of earthquakes rattled the island of Puerto Rico beginning in December.

In Waterbury, in addition to taking in over 50 new students, 21 calls were made to the state’s 2-1-1 service for crisis intervention. Both figures for student evacuees and 2-1-1 calls top all other Connecticut towns and cities.

State Rep. Geraldo Reyes (D-Waterbury) was in Hartford Monday fighting for federal funding on behalf of the people of Waterbury -- and people on the island.

“My family -- my cousins, my sister -- is sitting in Puerto Rico as we speak with no power and no water. I cannot tell you how personal this is,” Reyes said.

Waterbury’s Hispanic coalition, according to Reyes, is planning its own relief effort. It’ll take donations until the end of February in the hopes of distributing $25,000 in supplies to people on the island.

Reyes and Cardona were invited by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) to speak at the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford.

The earthquakes only exacerbated an already dire situation in Puerto Rico, an island with failing infrastructure after Maria leveled it in September 2017.

Despite more than two years having passed since the hurricane, about $16.5 billion earmarked for Puerto Rican aid hasn’t been released, Blumenthal said.

This is Community Development Block Grant money meant to mitigate disaster and spur recovery -- money Blumenthal said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been slow to disburse and has imposed restrictions on.

“People’s lives are in the balance. We’re talking here about schools, health centers, hospitals, roads, electricity -- basics that are needed by the people of Puerto Rico to recover, survive and thrive,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said the administration’s failure to release the money could be a violation of the Impoundment Control Act. He’s asked the federal Office of the Inspector General to investigate.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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