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Displaced by Hurricane Maria, Fully Trained Massage Therapists Can't Work Because They Lack Licenses

Blocked from jobs because they lack occupational licenses, they're turning to welfare instead.

Alberto Paredes/agefotostock/NewscomAlberto Paredes/agefotostock/NewscomCatalina Olea worked as a massage therapist in Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September. The storm blew out the windows of her family's apartment building, forced the spa where she worked to close for repairs, and decimated the island's infrastructure.

Like thousands of other Puerto Ricans, Olea and her husband decided to seek shelter in the mainland United States. In Hartford, Connecticut, where they now live, Olea could earn as much as $50,000 working as a massage therapist in a hotel or spa. She's fully trained, completely competent, and an American citizen.

The only thing she's missing is a permission slip from the State of Connecticut. Unable to work without the proper occupational license, her family is getting by on food stamps.

"We thought opportunities here would be better," Olea tells the Associated Press. "It's a difficult process."

Licensure's barriers to economic opportunity are perhaps never more obvious than when they prevent people like Olea from finding good-paying jobs. Instead of simply going to work, displaced workers end up having to go through expensive and time-consuming classes, pass exams, and pay fees before getting a license. The fee to become a licensed massage therapist in Connecticut is $380, and that can be a high hurdle for someone who has just fled a natural disaster.

Olea is hardly alone. Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria are running up against licensing obstacles in states from Florida to New England. Instead of rebuilding their lives, they risk falling into poverty.

Some states are handling the situation better than others. In Florida, for example, Gov. Rick Scott in October ordered the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to waive all licensing fees for Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. "It is crucial that we continue to do all we can to make it easier for these individuals to rebuild their lives and provide for their families," Scott, a Republican, said at the time.

Massachusetts has offered to waive the fees associated with teaching licenses for displaced Puerto Ricans. In New Jersey, the AP reports, state senators are mulling a proposal to grant licensing reciprocity to Puerto Ricans—but it's already been nine months since the storm hit, so that doesn't seem to be a priority.

In Connecticut, the mayors of nine major cities sent a joint letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy last month asking for help with the influx of Hurricane Maria evacuees into low-income housing and public schools. One item on their list was a request that the state waive licensing fees, so displaced Puerto Ricans could find work as soon as possible.

Malloy, a Democrat, seems to be throwing up his hands and claiming that he can't do anything to help. His office tells the AP that he does not have authority to make the change himself but he would support legislation to give the Department of Consumer Protection discretion to do so.

The Department of Consumer Protection is part of the executive branch. The boards that regulate occupations in Connecticut—one of the most heavily licensed states in the country, according to the Institute for Justice—are also part of the branch of government that Malloy heads. His deference to the state legislature, while potentially praiseworthy in other settings, seems in this case like a weak excuse for not helping American citizens who have lost everything, who are willing to work, and who only want the state to get out of their way.

And Connecticut, by the way, could use the influx. The state has been losing population for years. It faces a significant budget crisis partly driven by the outflow of residents. Getting more people into the state, into jobs, and away from welfare programs sounds like a win-win.

The only opposition to lowering entry barriers for would-be workers like Olea comes from the people who benefit from licensing boards' protectionism.

"They don't want to recognize it although they've gone through the same education," Yanil Teron, director of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford, tells the AP. "It's Connecticut protecting I don't know who but they are protecting other communities."

Who is running Connecticut: Malloy, or the special interests behind occupational licensing?

Photo Credit: Alberto Paredes/agefotostock/Newscom

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  • Joe_JP||

    The NYT (our friendly libertarian paper) linked notes:

    "The fee for a Connecticut massage therapist license is $380, but Olea does not know what additional training she might need. Her calls to a government assistance hotline have not turned up anyone who could explain in Spanish how to proceed."

    It seems curious that she could not have someone bilingual help her, even if there is not a resource in CT here to talk to people in Spanish. NYC surely would provide a Spanish translation if you called their information line. And, I think this should be seen as a basic requirement to provide equal protection when dealing with governmental services.

    If she can early 50K as a therapist, I think there should be a way to get $380. Coming from a natural disaster, there could be a need for private and public assistance here including a small loan, but that shouldn't be hard. One problem cited in the article is loss of documentation. Streamlining rules could help in various cases.

  • Hank Phillips||

    My fellow Puerto Ricans voted for Marco Rubio's prohibitionist coathanger abortion policies, and support Democratic efforts to ban electrical energy. Weendmeal subsidies, they squealed! Solar panels at taxpayer expense, they demanded! Now the windmills are junk, the solar panels toxic litter and electrical generating capacity is down about 15% thanks to boricua votes for looter political parties when they could have voted libertarian. Guess what? Those same looter parties voted to keep Puerto Ricans from being able to get work permits in their nuclear powered states. The brutos are getting exactly what they asked for and deserve.

  • JFree||

    Of course a much bigger problem is that roughly 50% of Puerto Ricans are legally speaking squatters. Which is caused by a tax/legal system that is designed for the benefit of land speculators (who really don't much care if someone squats since they can always kick them off if needed). Which is why so many are still basically homeless 6 months after the hurricane. Which is why they are having to move off the island. Which is why 'licensing' in some states is some big deal.

    As usual - let's ignore the freaking elephant. It's the LAND stupid. It's almost always the land.

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    Blocked from jobs because they lack occupational licenses, they're turning to welfare instead.


    "A-ha! I knew it! I knew they only come here for our welfare! We need a wall!"

    /Trumpista.

  • Mark22||

    "A-ha! I knew it! I knew they only come here for our welfare! We need a wall!"

    I know such details as citizenship are lost on you, but Puerto Ricans are actually American citizens, so they wouldn't be kept out by a wall.

    However, I strongly support independence for Puerto Rico, along with forcing Puerto Ricans to make a choice between US and Puerto Rican citizenship.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    So a massage therapist makes about $50,000 a year? Fellas, now you know how much you are paying in lost wages to put your woman in the mood.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Even if you buy one every week, a Whitman's sampler and a case of wine coolers costs way less than that per annum.

  • pemaintoto||

    terima kasih

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