Judge Orders Aid Cutoff to Hurricane Maria Victims
August 31, 2018
A federal judge ruled on Thursday that federal aid to house more than 1,000 Puerto Rican families who fled to the mainland U.S. after Hurricane Maria must end in two weeks. The families have been living in U.S.-funded housing in hotels and motels across the country since leaving Puerto Rico following the storm September 20, 2017. Hurricane Maria caused massive destruction to the island, killing nearly 3,000 people, destroying homes and businesses, and causing an estimated $90 billion in damages.
Funding for displaced Hurricane Maria victims has been continually extended since the storm. FEMA aid was originally set to end in April but then it was extended five times beyond that, with the latest deadline to be Aug. 31. Now, U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman says there will be no further extensions and the agency will only pay for evacuees’ housing costs until Sept. 14.
The judge rejected an advocacy group’s request to require FEMA to provide aid to evacuees until they obtained temporary or permanent housing.
“While this is the result that I am compelled to find, it is not necessarily the right result,” Hillman wrote in his ruling. But he said he had to apply the law.
According to FEMA, about 1,038 families displaced by Maria received aid under a program that pays for hotel lodging.
Any remaining evacuees now have a decision to make: Take up the U.S. government’s offer to pay for a plane ticket for them to return to Puerto Rico, or possibly face homelessness if they remain on the mainland once aid has been cut off.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, an advocacy organization that has been representing Puerto Ricans in the case, says it is considering options in how to help evacuees.
“Housing Funds for Puerto Ricans Who Fled Hurricane Maria Must End: U.S. Judge,” Reuters (Aug. 30, 2018)
Updated: June 26, 2019