Judge temporarily blocks end to housing assistance for displaced Puerto Ricans

FEMA Assistance vehicle

A federal judge on Saturday night temporarily blocked the government from ending housing aid to Puerto Ricans currently living on the mainland after being displaced by Hurricane Maria, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin extended the program by just a few days, ruling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cannot end the program until Tuesday. The program provides Puerto Rican hurricane survivors with temporary housing in hotels and motels.


FEMA said in a statement on Saturday that it will extend by 60 days its transportation assistance program that covers the costs of airfare, luggage and pet fees for Puerto Ricans returning to the island.

1,744 people will be affected by the extensions, according to LatinoJustice, the civil rights advocacy group that filed the class-action lawsuit on Saturday afternoon.

“FEMA is offering one-way plane tickets to send people back to a place that is in no way ready to receive them,” Denise Collazo, chief of staff for a group that has been working with evacuees, said in statement by LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

LatinoJustice said in the statement that Puerto Ricans on the mainland will be left homeless when the government ends the program.

 “If this eviction goes forth, it will do irreparable harm to people who have already suffered so much,” Collazo said in the statement. “Thousands of people lost homes, jobs, cars, places to go to school, and are suffering unnecessarily.”

“FEMA can end this by activating the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) now,” she added, referring to a longer-term housing assistance program.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Friday derided FEMA’s failure to activate the longer-term housing assistance program.

“If we don’t get this fixed, people are gonna be on the streets,” Warren said in a video posted to her Twitter account on Friday. “And that can’t happen.”

A group of Senate Democrats on Friday sent a letter to FEMA asking the agency to extend the temporary housing program for Hurricane Maria evacuees by 60 days, which it did not do.

Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, and at least 5,000 Puerto Ricans still have no electricity.

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