School districts and colleges in Florida and other states may be in line for some of $1.24 billion in federal support for taking in Puerto Rican children displaced by Hurricane Maria, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Friday.
Murphy, a Democrat from Winter Park, has been leading the charge, which has included several other Florida Congress members and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to get education dollars included in a $44 billion emergency funding request that the White House Office of Management and Budget submitted to Congress. The money was in there.
It will be available to school districts, colleges and universities to support their efforts to provide refugee schooling to the children among the estimated 160,000 Puerto Ricans who’ve fled to Florida and countless more to other states since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.
In Florida alone, more than 6,300 Puerto Rican children had enrolled in Florida schools by the end of last week. More than 1,300 enrolled in Osceola County and 2,400 in Orange County, leading to immediate crunches in many of those schools. More are on the way. State and local officials have projected as many as 300,000 Puerto Ricans may move to Florida before the end of the year.
“When disaster strikes anywhere in our nation, Congress has a duty to act swiftly to help those families affected,” Murphy said in a news release issued by her office. “I have been working with members of both parties to ensure that Florida and Puerto Rico receive the federal funding they need to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In particular, I’ve led the bipartisan effort to ensure schools in Florida who enroll students from Puerto Rico have sufficient resources to provide a great education to both their new and current students. Although I am concerned that the overall request of $44 billion is insufficient and I do not support OMB’s proposed offsets, I am pleased that the request includes this critical funding for students and families in central Florida.”
On Oct. 5, Murphy authored a letter to the House Appropriations Committee and OMB urging the to allocate school and college funding for the displaced students. The letter was co-signed by U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Darren Soto, Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, and Frederica Wilson from Florida and several more members of Congress from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Nelson sent his own letter making a similar request on Tuesday, signed by five other senators. Murphy, Soto, Wilson, and Nelson are Democrats, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are Republicans.
The signatories all come from states with large Puerto Rican populations that will likely be destinations for island families moving to the mainland in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Since the letter, Murphy has worked closely with OMB, her colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and school districts in Florida in support of her bipartisan effort, her office said in the release.
Nelson was less enamored than Murphy with the OMB proposal.
“This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed. People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers,” Nelson said in a news release from his office. “That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover.”
The next step is for Congress to consider OMB’s request, and Congress can—and likely will—provide funding beyond that requested by OMB, Murphy’s office said. This will be the third emergency appropriations bill that Congress approves, having already approved two bills in September and October. OMB has made clear there will be a fourth request for funding, intended to meet the significant long-term needs of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.