New York officials are preparing for a rise in the number of Puerto Ricans relocating to the state, following back-to-back hurricanes that wiped out much of the U.S. territory’s infrastructure.
Officials say it is too soon to pinpoint how many of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents will relocate to New York. But they expect a significant number to come here, given the state’s population of more than 1 million residents of Puerto Rican descent.
Edwin Melendez, an economist and director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY-Hunter, said the island already was grappling with increasing numbers of people moving away for economic reasons. He said the storms are expected to accelerate that trend, and that 120,000 to 200,000 people could leave the island this year.
“The exodus of people leaving Puerto Rico is going to be significant,” Melendez said.
Before hurricanes Maria and Irma hit in September, about 60,000 Puerto Ricans a year were leaving the island due to rising unemployment rates brought on by a fiscal crisis caused by mounting government debt, Melendez said. A decade ago, about 12,000 people a year were leaving, he said.
“The needs of those people when they get here to New York are going to be significant. . . . We’ll be dealing with school transfers, we’ll be dealing with housing situations,” Melendez said. “We need to sort of transition from talking about triage and emergency . . . to planning for some of the long-term needs both here in New York and in Puerto Rico.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, speaking at a hurricane relief event in Manhattan in September, acknowledged the possibility of an influx of Puerto Ricans to New York if island residents “see despair setting in, or they think the relief efforts are either wanting or inadequate.”
“If that happens, we’ll handle it when it comes,” Cuomo said. On Friday the board of the State University of New York at Cuomo’s request said SUNY schools would offer in-state tuition rates to Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island students impacted by Maria and Irma.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said public schools are ready to receive students relocating from Puerto Rico. De Blasio also has said city health and human services officials are assessing how the city can assist those who might be arriving with particular health care needs. The city has more than 700,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent, according to census figures.
“There’s no way yet to know what the number may be. But I think it’s absolutely right to assume that there will be a substantial number of Puerto Rican families coming here because they have family ties here and places hopefully they can stay,” de Blasio said at a news conference last week. “I would be surprised if that was less than the thousands.”
New York State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said the department stands ready to help districts, facing a wave of new students, and is prepared to support students and their families in resuming the school year with as little interruption as possible.
With John Hildebrand