NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Historically, New York City has had the largest population of Puerto Ricans outside the island.
Currently, there are around 700,000 Puerto Ricans living here. Many more are relocating after natural disasters. Yet upon arriving here, some are struggling to navigate the city’s services.
One local leader is hoping to make the transition easier.
Valerie Rivera and her family moved to New York City in 2017 after losing everything to Hurricane Maria, but they found a number of city services were not accessible.
“I cannot express how difficult it has to be for my mom, my brother and myself to get prepared,” she said. “To send her files here, to have the Department of Education share our files to give continuity to our education.”
That’s why City Council member Ritchie Torres says he’s proposing new legislation to create an office – a one stop shop – that would help Puerto Ricans access city services, apply to government programs, and obtain important documents from the island. Currently, there aren’t any city offices to help ease the transition from disaster to relief.
“The office will be known as PRNYC – Puerto Rico-New York City affairs. It will liaise between governments of Puerto Rico and New York City. It will promote economic and cultural partnership. It will provide services as well as referral to services. It will coordinate humanitarian relief,” Torres said.
Essentially, it’ll function as a consulate — something Puerto Ricans don’t have because they are American citizens.
But there is a need.
After Hurricane Maria, it’s estimated that 130,000 Puerto Ricans fled the island. That was about 4% of the island’s population at the time.
Since December, more than 100 earthquakes and their aftershocks have rattled the island.
Torres says the island is already struggling to recover from the aftershocks of a fiscal crisis, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.
That’s why he says New York City need to be a place they can seek refuge and relief.
“We have an obligation here in New York City to show support and solidarity and to set up a structure of collaboration and communication between Puerto Rico and New York City,” Torres said.
Torres says the city would pay for the office and seek a partnership with the government of Puerto Rico.
It will also help connect families separated by land and sea, and help Puerto Ricans obtain documents from the island including birth, death and marriage certificates.
He plans to propose the legislation as soon as Thursday.