Last September, Hurricane Maria destroyed the island of Puerto Rico, causing at least $50 million in damage. The Category 4 storm had winds up to 150 m.p.h, and killed just under 3,000 people.
The effects were, and still are, devastating to the island. Many people are still living without access to resources which had been previously available before the storm.
Currently, more than 1,000 families are still displaced and being housed in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paid hotel rooms. These families have already received three extensions for aid, but were shocked when the United States government recently announced that it was no longer going to assist them. From this, they took the government to court, and argued that aid should continue to be provided until the last family is settled.
In the August 30 ruling, the judge stated that FEMA is not required to assist those who lost their homes from the storm.
Judge Timothy Hillman of the Federal District Court in Massachusetts explained in his decision that there is no legal requirement that requires FEMA to continue helping the hurricane victims. While Judge Hillman said that providing aid is solely up to FEMA, he emphasized the necessity of continuing to help the victims.
“Though this is the result that I am compelled to find, it is not necessarily the right result,” wrote Judge Hillman.
With the execution of the new plan, families have exactly two weeks, until September 14, to move out of their hotels.
“Out of the initial 7,000 families that lived in government-funded housing, only 1,000 remain with most being sick or elderly victims who have no consistent or self-sufficient income,” said Natasha L. Bannon, a lawyer for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a hispanic civil rights organization.
“The families have been calling and texting me frantically, extremely concerned and traumatized. There is literally fear that they are going to be homeless. That’s what’s going on right now.”
Bannon and other lawyers at LatinoJustice are fighting for at least one more extension of governmental aid. Included in their argument are the facts that Hurricane Katrina victims received 27 months of aid in hotels and Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims were allowed seven extensions for aid. Unfortunately, Judge Hillman found that the other storms affected a larger population, and therefore needed more assistance.
Judge Hillman also remarked that the governor of Puerto Rico had stopped requesting aid extensions when FEMA when they would give assistance on the condition that Puerto Rico cover 10% of the housing costs. Being a small island with an already recovering economy, Puerto Rico’s government was unable to hold their side of the bargain. This is another factor in the termination of aid.
For José David Santiago and hundreds of other victims in temporary housing, they do not know what their next step is after September 14. Santiago, currently living in the United States, is struggling to adjust to living here. The prices of goods are much higher than in Puerto Rico, and he has not yet found a job while he lives in much less permanent housing.
“We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in hotels,” said Santiago. “We’re not asking FEMA to support us, just to help us until we are more stable. If this has been so hard for me, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the people with little kids or illnesses.”
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