Scott says Florida is ready to help

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World - BY STEVE BOUSQUET AND ALEX LEARY Times Staff Writ­ers

WASH­ING­TON — A day af­ter he saw Hur­ri­cane Maria’s ter­ri­ble toll on Puerto Rico, Gov. Rick Scott told Pres­i­dent Trump about it over lunch at the White House Fri­day as frus­tra­tion mounted over the of­fi­cial re­sponse.

Scott’s six-hour tour Thurs­day was dis­missed as a photo op­por­tu­nity by state Sen. Vic­tor Tor­res, a Demo­crat whose Or­lando-area dis­trict will soon wel­come tens of thou­sands of hur­ri­cane evac­uees.

“Talk is cheap,” said Tor­res, who finds Scott’s re­sponse long on plat­i­tudes and skimpy on specifics. “I don’t have the power. If I was the gover­nor, I would move, I would make things hap­pen. We need to step up our game.”

Tor­res, a former Ma­rine and New York City po­lice of­fi­cer, said that if Scott had ac­cess to a state air­craft to fly to Puerto Rico, he should have packed the plane with re­lief sup­plies.

Scott flew to Puerto Rico on a jet owned by the Florida De­part­ment of Law En­force­ment, ac­com­pa­nied by other state of­fi­cials.

“This is not a time for pol­i­tics,” he said Fri­day on the White House lawn. “Re­mem­ber, my job is to be re­spon­sive to what the gover­nor of Puerto Rico wants. He’s go­ing through an un­be­liev­able cri­sis and so as he finds his needs, I will do ev­ery­thing I can.”

Scott, the U.S. gover­nor who ap­pears to have the most di­rect ac­cess to the pres­i­dent, vis­ited the rav­aged is­land Thurs­day at the in­vi­ta­tion, he said, of Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello.

Af­ter the trip, his of­fice re­leased four pho­tos of the gover­nor, fly­ing in a chopper with Ros­sello and shak­ing hands with Na­tional Guard troops. And on his Twit­ter feed, Scott showed pho­tos of him­self rid­ing in the he­li­copter.

Scott’s of­fice late Fri­day said it is co­or­di­nat­ing send­ing 1,500 FDLE of­fi­cers to Puerto Rico and that fish and wildlife equip­ment would be sent to Puerto Rico “as needed.” The state is seek­ing li­censed truck driv­ers, the of­fice said, and is ar­rang­ing for kid­ney dial­y­sis pa­tients to be housed at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity in Mi­ami.

Scott said the state will of­fer less ex­pen­sive in-state tu­ition to Puerto Ri­can col­lege stu­dents, that coun­ties are send­ing bilin­gual po­lice of­fi­cers to Puerto Rico, and he is talk­ing to sea­ports about the need to move con­tain­ers.

Also, the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion will be asked to set aside class-size re­stric­tions and to post­pone the next sched­uled stu­dent head count from Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary to in­clude the ar­riv­ing chil­dren from Puerto Rico. That will mean more money for the school dis­tricts who end up han­dling the in­flux.

A dozen state leg­is­la­tors, all Democrats, sent Scott a let­ter Fri­day and urged him to im­me­di­ately set up one-stop re­cov­ery cen­ters for hous­ing, job train­ing and job place­ment, ac­cess to Med­i­caid and food stamps, un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, pub­lic school en­roll­ment and in­for­ma­tion about FEMA and lo­cal non­profit groups.

They said the re­lief cen­ters should be set up in coun­ties that are ex­pected to have the great­est num­ber of evac­uees — Mi­amiDade, Broward, Or­ange and Osce­ola.

Scott’s of­fice had no im­me­di­ate re­sponse.

Florida Gover­nor’s Of­fice

Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello of Puerto Rico, right, took Gov. Rick Scott on a he­li­copter ride Thurs­day to see the hur­ri­cane dam­age.

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