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Housing Assistance For Maria Evacuees Extended Three More Weeks

Damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Photo:  Puerto Rico National Guard by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos
Damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Photo: Puerto Rico National Guard by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos

A federal judge’s order has extended FEMA temporary housing assistance for Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria for three more weeks. Hundreds of families are still living in hotels and motels after Hurricane Maria forced them to leave their homes.

The ruling from US District Judge Timothy Hillman means evacuees covered by FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program can stay at least until check out July 24th.

As of July 3rd, 952 families in Puerto Rico and 27 states were checked into hotels under the TSA program, including 336 families in Florida.

Plaintiffs including civil rights organizations Latino Justice PRLDEF and VAMOS4PR filed a lawsuit against FEMA. They say Hurricane Maria is the largest natural disaster to strike the US, but the response from FEMA has been inadequate, and evacuees need more long term support.

“We believe that FEMA has not extended the same benefits, the same program benefits, housing assistance specifically, to the plaintiffs in this case as it has to the survivors of disasters, of natural disasters of this scale,” said Kira Romero-Craft, managing attorney for Latino Justice PRLDEF's Southeastern office.

She said the priority for her organization and other advocates is “to make sure that folks that are using the TSA program know that they have until July 24th at the least. Hopefully [they] will understand that they can continue in their efforts in terms of trying to find longer term housing.”

In his ruling, Judge Hillman wrote that he wants all parties to address the implication of the governor of Puerto Rico’s refusal to request another extension of TSA benefits.

The judge will decide whether a further hearing is needed after reviewing submissions from FEMA and the plaintiffs. In the meantime, FEMA said it’s notifying hotels and motels that evacuees can stay until the 24th.


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