Press Release

U.S. Reps. Castor, Soto join in announcing their special guests to next week's State of the Union Address

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Florida, January 25, 2018 | comments
Today, U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor (FL-14) and Darren Soto (FL-09) announced their special guests for the President’s State of the Union Address, scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 30, 9 p.m.
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Today, U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor (FL-14) and Darren Soto (FL-09) announced their special guests for the President’s State of the Union Address, scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 30, 9 p.m.

Brenda Irizarry, 43, serves on U.S. Rep. Castor’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance and will attend as U.S. Rep. Castor’s special guest to the State of the Union. She was among many Tampa Bay area Puerto Ricans who took immediate action the day after Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20 to mobilize relief efforts, collecting supplies to send to the island. “Borrowing” her partner’s warehouse for an effort that she thought would last a few days -- maybe just a few weeks – grew into something that united our entire region to help Puerto Rico. Ms. Irizarry helped lead an effort that has so far collected and transported some 2.5-3 million pounds of supplies to Puerto Rico. Ms. Irizarry has since founded Missions of Miracles to formally serve as a nonprofit where relocated families can go to for assistance.

“Our guests will represent the urgent message from Central Florida and Florida’s Puerto Rican community to President Trump and GOP congressional leaders:  Approve immediately additional disaster recovery resources for Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Texas,” U.S. Rep. Castor said. “The Tampa Bay area is a hard-working and generous community -- there is no better example than Brenda and other individuals as well as churches, non-profit and governmental organizations who are helping these families following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. But their hard work should not be undone by the GOP’s irresponsible inaction over the past four months to provide meaningful disaster recovery resources.”

Claudia Sofía Báez Solá, 18, was born and raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico and will attend the State of the Union as U.S. Rep. Soto’s special guest. She was a student at the University of Puerto Rico until Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island. On Oct. 16, 2017, Claudia’s parents made the tough decision to send Claudia, her younger brother, and grandmother to live with relatives in Orlando, Florida. Since then, Claudia enrolled at Valencia College and is continuing her education thanks to in-state tuition being granted to Puerto Rican evacuees living in Florida. Despite adversity, Claudia is determined to continue her education and help her family. She is also coordinating efforts to form a support group for students in the Central Florida area from Puerto Rico who are facing similar challenges.

Almost four months later, Claudia’s parents are still in Caguas without power and with limited access to potable water. Her parents continue to work in Puerto Rico in order to financially support their children. They have hopes of finding housing and employment in Florida soon, so they can reunite with their children.

“We’ve heard many stories, of both tragedy and triumphs, in the wake of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. Our guest, Claudia, is just one of the many thousands of Puerto Ricans who faced hardships uprooting their lives and moving to our great state of Florida,” stated U.S. Rep. Soto. “I bring her as my guest not only because she is inspiring, but also as a reminder that we still have work to do. In Central Florida, we must address the housing, educational, and employment challenges recently arrived Puerto Ricans and Floridians face. At the federal level, Congress must approve additional disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, Florida, and other affected regions. We must work on rebuilding power grids, getting electricity back on the island, and finally bring normalcy back to the lives of 3.3 million Americans in Puerto Rico.

More than 240,000 Puerto Ricans live in U.S. Reps. Castor and Soto’s congressional districts. 


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