City council members propose new office to help Puerto Ricans displaced by natural disasters

Bronx councilmember Ritchie Torres is proposing a bill that would create an office of Puerto Rico-New York City Affairs outside of City Hall on Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo by Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech)

City council members Ritchie Torres and Diana Ayala are proposing the city create of a new office to help displaced Puerto Ricans coming to the city. 

The office, called the Office of Puerto Rico–New York City Affairs, would help islanders find documents like birth, death and marriage certificates from Puerto Rico, help guide newcomers through complicated applications for governmental services and offer referrals to other city agencies that could help with such things as finding housing. Puerto Ricans new to the city could once seek help transitioning via the island’s Office of Puerto Rican Affairs, but the office is now closed. 

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, about 4 percent of the population–130,000 people– left the island. About 43 percent of those people went to Florida and 9 to New York due to the large Puerto Rican communities in both states. Torres said that more islanders are expected to come to the city due to the slew of earthquakes have shaken the island since late December, destroying hundreds of homes and causing an estimated $ 200 million worth of damages.

The legislation is in part being introduced tomorrow to make up for the lack of federal help islanders have received. Although  billions in aid were released to the island after it was hit by a  5.9 magnitude earthquake, the White House placed strict limits on how those funds could be used. 

“Not only is Puerto Rico struggling with natural disasters, it’s also facing a man made disaster in the Trump administration,” Torres said at a press conference outside of City Hall on Wednesday. The Bronx council member is currently a candidate for New York’s 15th Congressional district 2020 race.

If the law is passed, Torres said, not only will it codify the special relationship between Puerto Rico and New York but will also represent a “legal expression of our solidarity” with Puerto Ricans. 

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