While attending this year’s Somos Puerto Rico Conference in San Juan, Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday announced the opening of a new Bronx office for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).
At a press conference where Hochul – who was elected to a full four-year term earlier this week – unveiled the opening of the new office Friday morning, she spoke to the close kinship between New York and the island U.S. territory, calling it “part of the New York Family.” She was joined by Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx).
“We’re back here for Somos officially, but I’ve come here after earthquakes, I’ve come here to work on medicaid, medicare issues in the past,” Hochul said. “Our view is that when Puerto Rico needs help, we’re here. That is going to continue for the next four years [I’m] the Governor as well. And it’s for many reasons, but the fact that over one million Puerto Ricans call New York home is a huge point of pride for all of us. So we’re always going to be there.”
The new office will assist Puerto Ricans living in the New York metro area with obtaining vital documents, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses, needed to access government services. Since the last New York City PRFAA office shuttered in 2017, Puerto Ricans living in the Empire State and surrounding areas have had to travel long distances – to PRFAA offices in Washington D.C., Miami or Puerto Rico – in order to retrieve their important paperwork.
Because of its large Puerto Ricon population, Hochul said, the Bronx was the logical choice for where to locate the new office – rather than Times Square, where the last branch was situated prior to closing five years ago.
“It just makes sense to have us reopen a Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office right in New York,” the governor said. “And Puerto Ricans come when they have many hurdles to deal with: records, government documents, birth certificates, marriage licenses. And the office closed back in 2017, I believe at the time it was even back in Times Square. Why was this in Time Square in the first place? So, let’s take it to a place where there’s a larger concentration of people who would take advantage of these services.”
The space for the new PRFAA office will be provided by the state Department of Labor and will be funded by the Puerto Rican government.
According to Torres, reopening a PRFAA regional branch in the city has been one of his priorities since getting elected to Congress last year. Bringing a regional office back to the area was necessary, Torres said, because so many Puerto Ricans moved to New York over the past few years following the deviation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“Puerto Ricans who left the island and came to New York would face unique barriers to accessing their vital documents,” the congress member said. “If you were born in New York and need access to your birth certificate, you could easily call your local health department, the New York City Department of Health. But if you were Puerto Rican who was born on the island, but lived in New York, you had no place to go. You had no one to call.”
Pierluisi said the new office is yet another way to bolster the connection between Puerto Ricans living in New York and their birthplace.
“This is another way to continue to strengthen the bonds we have with our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters who live in New York, similarly, as we do in Florida,” he said. “And thus we continue to enhance potential opportunities for social and commercial exchange between our jurisdictions and promoting the socioeconomic development of Puerto Ricans here and there.”
Hochul also announced her administration will provide additional help to Puerto Rico when it comes to hurricane preparedness, in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona – which caused power outages and limited access to safe drinking water when it hit the island in September. That support includes sending state personnel to conduct annual maintenance on the island’s emergency generators ahead of hurricane season and hosting around 30 Puerto Rican first responders in New York each spring for emergency preparedness trainings.
Additionally, Hochul said New York will deliver 19,000 pounds of fresh produce to Puerto Rico and ensure that the city’s food distribution hub in the Bronx makes regular purchases from the island.
“This will help stimulate the Puerto Rican economy and the agricultural sector, but also respond to a need that New York has,” she said. “We want to bring his fresh produce to our city and make sure that it’s serving underserved areas in our state as well.”
To top it all off, the governor designated November as Puerto Rican Heritage Month in New York.
“It’s long overdue,” Hochul said. “It’s a recognition of this tight bond that exists now and will continue to deepen. But also recognizing our Puerto Rican community as part of what makes New York State so fascinating and diverse.”