When they landed in Port Everglades Tuesday after getting evacuated from Maria-stricken Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on a Royal Caribbean ship, nearly 4,000 weather refugees who left crumbling homes and food shortages first saw the familiar faces of family members and friends.
Then they saw a bazaar-like area with booths offering jobs — and, down the line, a shout-out for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Several private businesses like the Maryland-based airport and highway restaurant operator HMS Host were actually recruiting servers and chefs and IT specialists as they stepped off the plank. Pay scale between 12 bucks an hour and $50,000 a year.
“There are some fine people aboard the ship,” said Fanny Morales, HMS Host regional manager. “We have 2,800 positions to fill nationwide, and we're ready to process application forms right now. Anyone who wants a job could have one within 2 1/2 weeks if they apply today.”
There was also a table manned by four Nelson staffers who sat near a huge Nelson sign and offered advice on how to receive federal assistance. And while they were there, the newly arrived were asked to fill out a form so that the senator “could stay in touch.”
Nelson’s spokesman bristled at the suggestion they were trolling for votes from thousands of Puerto Ricans expected to resettle in Florida for months and maybe years.
By the way, Puerto Ricans traditionally vote Democrat, and that’s Nelson’s party.
“Our staff has been holding mobile office hours all around the state for weeks to help people affected by the storm,” Ryan Brown, Nelson’s spokesman, wrote in an email. “And just as they have been for weeks now, our staff was at Port Everglades as hundreds of people were arriving from Puerto Rico to offer to help them in any way that we can.
“Whether it’s helping people apply for FEMA assistance, or unemployment assistance, or helping a veteran get help at the VA or helping someone deal with one of several federal agencies offering assistance to victims of the storm, our staff has been working nonstop all across the state to help people recover from these storms.”
Nelson is up for reelection in 2018 and could be for in the race of his life against Gov. Rick Scott.