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Judge extends housing assistance for Puerto Ricans displaced by hurricane

A federal judge on Tuesday extended by 20 days the housing aid program that provides temporary shelter to Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria.

U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Hillman extended the program to July 23, pending a formal hearing for Puerto Rican evacuees, according to a statement from, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, an advocacy group.

Approximately 1,700 Puerto Ricans are receiving assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program, which provides Puerto Rican hurricane survivors with temporary housing assistance.  

U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin of Massachusetts on Saturday blocked FEMA from ending the program on June 30, its original slated end date.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which filed the lawsuit against FEMA, said the June 30 end date was arbitrary, and would leave hundreds of Puerto Ricans without homes. 

In his ruling, Hillman said he will either issue an order determining the future of the FEMA program by July 23 or schedule a formal hearing on the matter later this summer, according to NBC.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against FEMA claim the agency's response to the hurricanes has been inadequate, leaving thousands of Puerto Ricans stranded or homeless.

"It's inconceivable that disaster victims have to continue to bring FEMA to court to force them to uphold their mandate and not discontinue the most basic aid to entire communities that have suffered through unimaginable disasters," said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, in a statement.

Puerto Rico is still rebuilding after Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, devastated the island last year. At least 5,000 Puerto Ricans still have no electricity.

"This will give families who are in the process of reestablishing their lives - kids in school, parents who have started work - the opportunity to establish a long-term residence, and for those in need of regular medical attention the opportunity to not have their treatment interrupted," said Denise Collazo, chief of staff for advocacy organization Faith in Action.

"We do have the power to help people in this kind of situation - we just have to choose to do it," she added.

Both Hillman and Sorokin are Obama appointees to the federal bench.

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