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Ahead Of Puerto Rico Trip, U.S. Sen. Nelson Meets With Groups Helping Displaced Families

Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Nelson met with Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria and the advocates working to help them Thursday at Tampa Underground near USF.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson applauded FEMA's decision to extend a program that provides temporary housing for Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria. 




He shared the news with some of those families and advocates working to help them during a meeting Thursday at Tampa Underground, a hub for about 200 church groups and ministries.


The Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program has provided hotel rooms for more than 7,000 families since the storm in October.  About 2,300 families remain in the program across the country.


FEMA had initially extended its April end date to May 15. The agency announced it is granting Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello's request to push it to June 30.

Nelson says he's pleased kids can finish the school year.


"You didn't want a child that's in school, or a child that's graduating or taking final exams in the middle of May to have to uproot from where they're staying in a hotel or apartment," Nelson said.


People who attended the meeting at Tampa Underground applauded the extension, but many cautioned it could be a "band-aid" for a larger, more long-term issue. 


The organization has helped thousands of Puerto Rican families displaced by the storm. Leaders say the majority of these families do not want to go back to the island and require assistance transitioning into more permanent housing and employment on the mainland.


Attendees addressed Sen. Nelson, often times in Spanish, about the needs of displaced families and the challenges groups assisting them face with funding and red tape.


Nelson is visiting Puerto Rico Friday to meet with officials and tour areas of the island still struggling to recover from the storm.


He plans to spend the day with Governor Rossello, who has been clashing with the federal board that oversees the bankrupt island's finances. The cuts imposed by the board to things like education and pensions sparked violent protests in Puerto Rico this week. 


The demonstrators also called attention to the island's slow recovery from the storm. 

Nelson says it's critical "to address the problems of American citizens not having electricity or potable drinking water, and having austerity measures imposed by the outside in on an island that cannot take much more of the distress that the island is experiencing."


Earlier this week Nelson's Republican opponent in the Senate Race, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, said he supports Puerto Rican statehood, and Nelson agrees.

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