Jouniari Focused on Economic Issues



In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Ruta Jouniari found herself walking through the migrant food camps of Immokalee speaking with residents savaged by wind and flooding but virtually ignored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The founder of Universal Crescent Clinic always felt drawn to provide medical resources for the poor, so she soon worked with a local Baptist church establishing a tent city complete with medical clinic to help care for the population. “We’ll be dispensing medicines for free. Dermatologists will do suturing,” she says. “I’m just so proud of people in Sarasota helping make this happen.”

She took care of some other business last week too, filing her paperwork and qualifying fee to run for state House in a special election in District 72. The Democrat plans to bring her passion for the economically disadvantaged to her platform as well, and hopes, should she represent the area in Tallahassee, to fight for a higher minimum wage and broader accessibility to health care in Florida.

The Boston native today runs two companies: International Staffing Group, which connects military veterans with American aircraft companies; and Universal Crescent Clinic, which provides free medical care to underfunded families in the Sarasota area. Ideally, she would like to see single-payer health care for all, but acknowledges that’s a decision that will be decided in Washington. But the state needs to act, she says, as the Affordable Care Act seems to be “crumbling.” “We only have Blue Cross in our area,” she says of the ACA-created insurance marketplace. She feels Florida should mandate insurance companies to provide plans here.

She’d also like to require counties to designate zoning for affordable housing, an inventory sorely lacking in tiny Sarasota. The minimum wage conversation goes hand-in-hand with the lack of reasonably priced homes, she says. “To pay someone $8 an hour when the average rent is $1,000 a month, even if they work full-time they can’t afford to live in Sarasota and in District 72,” she says. Jouniari knows if she gets elected as a Democrat, she walks into the state capitol as a minority, but she feels her stances can be embraced as bipartisan positions.

Jouniari right now faces Democrat Margaret Good in a Dec. 5 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall in the Feb. 13 special election.

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