Recovery

Judge Extends Housing Aid Program for Hurricane Maria Evacuees Until Aug. 31

Tens of thousands of families are estimated to have fled to Florida after Hurricane Maria, many of them relocating to Central Florida.

by Bianca Padro Ocasio, Orlando Sentinel / August 2, 2018
Puerto Rican residents of the Super 8 motel in Kissimmee, Fla., on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. A federal judge has extended the temporary federal hotel voucher program housing Hurricane Maria evacuees on the mainland until August 31. TNS

(TNS) - A federal judge has extended the temporary federal hotel voucher program housing Hurricane Maria evacuees on the mainland until Aug. 31, amid ongoing litigation between advocacy organizations and the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman ruled during a hearing Wednesday to prolong a temporary restraining order first issued on June 30 to delay the end of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. This is the fourth extension of the restraining order.

The advocacy group LatinoJustice is representing four Puerto Rican families who evacuated the island after the devastating Sept. 20 storm, suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for what they claim was insufficient aid.

The TSA program was first activated on Oct. 30 for Maria evacuees who fled Puerto Rico and extended several times until the end of June. Advocates filed the lawsuit the night before hundreds in Florida were going to be forced to leave their hotel rooms.

Tens of thousands of families are estimated to have fled to Florida after Hurricane Maria, many of them relocating to Central Florida. As of mid-July, about 331 families remained living in Florida hotels, according to FEMA.

Hector Figueroa, committee member for the activist organization Vamos4PR, called the new ruling a “heartening” decision that would benefit families planning to vote in Florida’s primary elections on Aug. 28.

“With the new extension, those who have registered to vote using their current hotel addresses will be able to vote at their current precincts in the primaries before being forced to relocate,” Figueroa said in a statement.

Spokespeople for FEMA said they could not comment directly on the litigation.

“FEMA is aware of the judge’s ruling regarding the continuation of its emergency sheltering program … and is working to comply with the order,” the agency said in a statement.

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