Preparedness & Recovery

Federal Judge in Worcester Orders FEMA to Continue Hotel Subsidies for Puerto Ricans Displaced by Maria

The order comes a day after a group of displaced residents, including several living in Worcester, argued in court that FEMA was unlawfully terminating their housing assistance.

by Brad Petrishen, Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. / July 3, 2018

(TNS) — A federal judge in Worcester Tuesday extended an order requiring the government to continue paying hotels until July 23 to house Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria.

The order comes a day after a group of displaced residents, including several living in Worcester, argued in court that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was unlawfully terminating their housing assistance.

The ruling will allow more than 1,700 people across the country to continue staying in hotels paid for by FEMA for another three weeks. Before the lawsuit was filed Saturday, the payments were set to expire Sunday.

In his four-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman did not say whether he believed the plaintiffs might ultimately prevail in their case.

Instead, after reviewing cases filed by both sides in support of their positions, he wrote that "further briefing on the issues would be helpful to the court."

The plaintiffs, represented by local lawyer Hector E. Pineiro and national civil rights group, LatinoJustice, argued FEMA's end to the program violated regulations as well as the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers for FEMA rejected the constitutional argument, and further noted that the governor of Puerto Rico declined to request the hotel stays be extended.

Judge Hillman wrote in his ruling that he'd like both sides to "address the implication" of that refusal, as well as to provide further context on the "statutory scheme' upon which their arguments rest.

The judge ordered the government to file an opposition by July 13, and the plaintiffs to respond by July 18. He said he would then review the documents and decide whether a hearing is necessary.

Judge Hillman said he expects to issue his order by July 23. He ordered the temporary restraining order issued over the weekend be extended to midnight July 23, which would allow Puerto Ricans across the country to remain in subsidized hotels until July 24.

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