FEMA funding for displaced Puerto Ricans comes to an end, leaving some with nowhere to go

PUERTO RICO — After Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017, hundreds of thousands of families were left with uninhabitable living conditions. Many, without a home.

According to estimates, nearly 400,000 Puerto Ricans fled the island looking for help on the mainland. While some stayed with relatives, others were placed into shelters or under FEMA’s Temporary Shelter Assistance program. Since the start of this program for those affected by Hurricane Maria, more than 7,000 applicants checked into hotels for temporary housing.

However, on August 30th, after multiple deadline extensions, a federal judge ruled to end FEMA’s funding of the program. September 14th was the final checkout date.

“These individuals came to the United States because FEMA said we can give you temporary assistance, lived in temporary assistance and are now suffering in consequence of not being able to go home,” said Juan Cartegena, President of LatinoJustice. The national civil rights organization filed a restraining order to stop FEMA from ending the program back in June.

He says those affected are left with three options: stay with family of friends, find themselves on the streets, or enter into the shelter system.

According to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, there are already more than 500 Puerto Ricans evacuees in their system. “The Trump Administration abandoned the people of Puerto Rico. Our Mayor will not. We have and will continue to shelter our fellow U.S. citizens and we will do all we can to help them get back on their feet,” says Jaclyn Rothenberg, First Deputy Press Secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

FEMA says they have been offering Direct Lease and Multi-Lease and Repair programs as well as two months of financial rental assistance through vouchers. “That’s two months rental assistance based on your Puerto Rico rent,” says Peter Gudaitis, Executive Director for New York Disaster Interfaith Services.

“Nobody is going to rent you an apartment based on those vouchers. And you can’t get an apartment without a job and a credit rating or renter history. Most evacuees cannot provide any of those things.”

Other organizations involved in assisting displaced Puerto Ricans include: Urban Health, Catholic Charities of New York, and Union Health Center.