U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto are planning to head to Puerto Rico Wednesday to check on recovery efforts and reports that up to 1,000 deaths might now be related to Hurricane Maria.
Nelson and Soto, both Democrats from Orlando, plan to meet with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and other leaders during their one-day trip to discuss the island’s recovery, Medicaid needs, and the potential effects of the new excise tax included in the new federal tax reform law approved and signed last week.
They then plan to be in Kissimmee Thursday to meet with Puerto Rican community leaders in Central Florida to discuss their findings from Puerto Rico, and the needs faced by Puerto Ricans who’ve evacuated to Florida. That meeting, open to the public, is set for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Osceola County Commission Chambers.
Both Nelson and Soto have made previous trips to the island since Hurricane Maria devastated it on Sept. 20-21.
Among their stops in Puerto Rico will be a hospital in the city of Bayamón that, like many hospitals, is still using generators for electricity, and a factory where they will discuss the ramifications of the new excise tax being imposed on Puerto Rican manufacturers shipping to the United States, a tax that Rosselló, Nelson and Soto all have condemned as likely to cripple the island’s already depressed economy.
“We’re going to Puerto Rico to assess the recovery and get a sense of what will happen to manufacturing after the tax reform, and do our best to bring additional attention to the issues,” Soto said.
Nelson also cited the death toll inquiry as part of the trip.
The official death toll from the hurricane is set at 64. Rosselló has contended that number grossly undercounts the number of people whose deaths may be attributable either directly to the storm or to injuries and inhabitable conditions that have persisted through much of the island, conditions that have left most of the island without power or water, hospitals underpowered and understaffed, and transportation restricted.
Last week, after reporting by both the New York Times and the Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism suggested there were more than 1,000 more deaths than normal in the weeks following the storm, Rosselló ordered a review of all deaths on the island since the storm.