Nearly half of Puerto Ricans staying in Florida after Hurricane Maria won’t return to island

40 percent cited economic opportunity as their main reason for staying.

Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria, arrive in buses from western Massachusetts on First St., NE, on June 6, 2018, Washington, D.C. (CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria, arrive in buses from western Massachusetts on First St., NE, on June 6, 2018, Washington, D.C. (CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A survey of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria found that almost half will remain in Florida, rather than return to the island.

The Florida International University study was commissioned by the Puerto Rican Alliance of Florida and asked a population of 1,000 Puerto Rican Maria survivors currently living in state a variety of questions about life after the storm, including their reasons for leaving the island, and employment status in the state.

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When asked if they would return to Puerto Rico, 43 percent said no. 56 percent said they planned to stay in Florida “indefinitely.”

The majority of Puerto Ricans cited the ongoing economic crisis on the island as their primary reason for leaving, with almost 20 percent citing job opportunities on the mainland as their primary reason for leaving Puerto Rico and another nearly 20 percent specifically citing the economic situation there.

As the Orlando Sentinel notes, the survey contradicts public perception that this community is living off the government. Only 10 percent of respondents have received any kind of aid from a state agency.

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With the help of federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans have been living in motels for almost 10 months through the agency’s temporary shelter assistance program (TSA). Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina victims received TSA benefits for 44 months, almost three times as long as Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Ricans will have until July 23, when the TSA program for Hurricane Maria victims ends, to make the decision to either return to an island with few opportunities or start a new life on the mainland.

For those that choose to stay in the states, they could be a powerful Democratic voting block in a state that frequently teeters between red and blue as a pivotal midterm election is months away.

Even though 57 percent of Puerto Ricans in Florida said they are registered Democrats, 75 percent said they have a favorable view of Governor Scott (R), now a candidate for U.S. Senate, compared to 62 percent of those who view his opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) favorably.