FEMA cutting housing funds for Puerto Rico families

FEMA cutting housing funds for Puerto Rico families
© Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will end housing assistance for thousands of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. this week, potentially leaving some with few options for returning to the island — or places to stay.

NBC News reports that FEMA officials confirmed a program that housed around 1,000 families of Puerto Ricans in hotel rooms around the U.S. in the months following Hurricanes Irma and Maria expires Friday, meaning that the agency will begin evicting families following a noon check-out time.

ADVERTISEMENT

The program's end coincides with a federal offer for one-way plane tickets back to the island, an offer which also expires Friday. Families that are unable to secure flights back to the island today could end up without government assistance for getting home.

A federal judge ruled last month that he lacked the authority to force FEMA to continue to provide housing for the families, despite conceding that many could end up homeless as a result of the program's ending. 

Many families "do not appear to have any place to go once the [FEMA] program ends," Judge Timothy Hillman wrote in court filings obtained by NBC.

Hillman added that despite the fact that the families had faced "disproportionate hardship" and "may well be rendered homeless," he would deny an injunction to stop the evictions.

FEMA is providing housing assistance to the families that return to Puerto Rico, the agency told NBC.

A FEMA spokesperson pointed NBC to the length of time that has elapsed since the hurricanes last year as a factor that went in to the decision to end the program.

"The hurricane was almost a year ago. This is not a long-term program, it's supposed to be temporary," the spokesperson said.

"FEMA supports disaster survivors in their recovery process with many different housing programs, and we provide survivors all assistance that they are eligible for under the Stafford Act," the agency continued.

Activists are raising questions about the agency's alternatives for the Puerto Ricans who are still struggling. 

"After other past disasters, longer-term disaster housing assistance has been used to help survivors get back on their feet," Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told NBC.

"It's not too late for FEMA to do so now. The last thing the federal government should be doing is knowingly causing homelessness for disaster survivors."