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