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Senate Dems ask FEMA to extend Puerto Rico shelters

Senate Dems ask FEMA to extend Puerto Rico shelters
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A group of Senate Democrats on Friday sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Brock Long asking for an extension for temporary housing for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, set to expire Saturday.

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September, activating FEMA assistance to the island.

The letter, led by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.) and dated Thursday, asks FEMA for a 60-day extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program.

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“Given the continuing housing needs of displaced individuals and families after Hurricane Maria, we urge you to grant a sixty-day extension of the TSA program,” the senators wrote.

FEMA's 10-month period to provide emergency relief will end Saturday, but at least 5,000 Puerto Ricans still have no electricity and many homes still have temporary blue tarps provided by FEMA as roofing. 

TSA was previously extended for 60 days, in May, at the request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. 

In that extension, FEMA noted that Puerto Rico's recovery has already been appropriated nearly $20 billion in Community Development Block Grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But those appropriated funds have not yet reached the island, as the territorial government is due in August to release a plan to use those funds for reconstruction.

In their letter, the senators detail that many Puerto Ricans who are unable to return to their homes — to qualify for TSA, people's homes must be uninhabitable or inaccessible — are living in hotels and motels stateside. 

TSA pays lodging expenses for qualifying applicants until the program period ends, or the applicants are able to return home.

“Left without other housing options, families have had no choice but to double or triple up with other low income survivors, return to uninhabitable homes, sleep in homeless shelters, cars or on the street, or pay more than half of their income on rent, leaving them with few resources to get back on their feet,” reads the letter.

In the letter, senators also ask FEMA to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for Puerto Rico.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, DHAP is the “most efficient and proven way to provide low income survivors longer-term housing assistance.”

The ask seems unlikely to gain traction. In May, FEMA declined Rossello's request to activate DHAP.

Earlier this month FEMA also published a fact sheet explaining why DHAP “is not necessary to house displaced disaster survivors.”

In their letter, the Democratic senators recognized that FEMA's measures are intended to be temporary, but warned that its response to the “ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico” had “yet to complete the mission of ensuring the safety of hundreds of displaced American families across the country.”

“If the administration refuses to extend TSA or activate the DHAP program, it will be knowingly placing families at risk of homelessness,” reads the letter.

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Dems FEMA Puerto Rico Letter on Scribd