Ferdinando Voltaggio said he probably wouldn’t be alive if he had not left Puerto Rico when he did.
He was being treated for kidney failure in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when Hurricane Maria hit the island in September. The treatment center was so damaged that he had to come to the mainland to continue his treatment.
On Tuesday at the Grand Avenue headquarters of Junta for Progressive Action, he thanked the many people in Connecticut, including State Rep. Juan Candelaria, for helping to save his life and that of his family.
“I’m very grateful,” he said. “If it wasn’t for coming here I would be dead. Junta helped my wife find a job, helped us find a place to stay. If it wasn’t for Junta we’d be staying the floor.”
Junta, and organizations like it, will be able to help more families coming to Connecticut from Puerto Rico as the island and the federal government continues to deal with the aftermath of the devastating storm. Candelaria announced Tuesday that he and his colleagues on both sides of the General Assembly aisle secured some $4.4 million to education and housing assistance for Connecticut communities like New Haven that have taken in Hurricane Maria evacuees.
Candelaria championed the passage of a bill this session that appropriated $1.5 million in aid to the departments of education, housing, and social services to help the approximately 13,000 families that have come to Connecticut from Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm. The legislation also provides $2.9 million in grant funding for school districts in the state that have received displaced students.
“Education for our children is critical and is important that we invest in our children, understanding that there is a language barrier and bilingual education is critical for them to be successful,” Candelaria said. The money for education includes about $400,000 in additional funding specifically for bilingual education resources, he said.
The non-education funding includes about $600,000 to help families secure places to live by helping provide a security deposit and first months rent. Junta will receive $90,000 out of the $500,000 that has been allocated to agencies helping families to continue its work helping to resettle families.
Paola Serrecchia, Junta director of advocacy and engagement, said the agency will need as that help as it continues to help families from Puerto Rico. The agency has had 1,024 people from Puerto Rico walk through its doors and provided services to 455 families.
“It’s a blessing because we didn’t know what we were going to do and how we were going to thrive after this hurricane,” she said of the state funding. “This is really a humanitarian crisis.”
She said agencies like Junta have absorbed the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria by helping people with physical and psychological impacts of the storm like amputated legs and having a heart attack on the plane ride over. She said the staff is also preparing for what could happen should another hurricane hit the island’s fragile infrastructure leaving more people to seek shelter on the mainland. Serrecchia also noted that once Puerto Ricans settle here they become Connecticut residents and they need whatever assistance that can be made available to ensure they are successful here.
Alicia Caraballo, Junta’s interim executive director, said many Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria arrived in Connecticut with the clothes on their back and Connecticut communities embraced them and helped them find their footing in their new home. She praised city and state officials for their work, particularly Candelaria calling him, “our hero and our champion here and on the island of Puerto Rico.”
Click below on the Facebook Live to see the press conference.