Senate Republicans today blocked an attempt by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to have the Senate take up and pass legislation he filed to force FEMA to continue providing temporary housing assistance to hundreds of displaced families who are still unable to return to their homes in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. [Read more…] about GOP blocks Nelson attempt to extend FEMA housing assistance for displaced storm victims
Recent reports suggest the death toll in Puerto Rico could be 70 times higher than previously reported
Thousands of displaced Puerto Rican families could be kicked out of hotels on June 30
Nelson’s bill would provide housing assistance through Feb. 2019
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to activate its Disaster Housing Assistance Program to continue providing housing assistance to thousands of families still displaced after last year’s hurricanes – including thousands of Puerto Rican families forced to flee the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The move comes just two days after FEMA denied the governor of Puerto Rico’s request to activate the program. And just weeks after the agency announced that it will end a separate temporary housing assistance program that’s currently providing hotel rooms to hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families living in Florida on June 30 – leaving many of them with no assistance and nowhere to go after the program ends.
“This administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico,” Nelson said. “If they’re not going to act, then Congress must. These displaced families are American citizens who desperately need our help. We have a responsibility to help them, just as we would want to be helped if we were in their shoes.”
If approved, Nelson’s legislation would require FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to immediately activate a joint interagency housing program, known as the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP, to continue providing housing assistance to the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria – including hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families living in Florida – through February 2019.
The DHAP program was first activated in 2007, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help relocate storm victims out of defective FEMA trailers and into more traditional housing. It was used again in 2008 to provide housing assistance to victims of Hurricane Ike and Gustav.
Once activated, DHAP provides monthly rent subsidies to eligible families displaced by a storm to help them pay for temporary housing in the wake of a disaster. The program can provide eligible families with housing assistance for up to 18 months after a disaster is declared, which means it could provide victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria with housing assistance through February 2019.
The program is initiated through an interagency agreement between FEMA and HUD, where FEMA funds the program and establishes the eligibility criteria for displaced families, while HUD uses its existing processes to administer the program and provide displaced families with the assistance they need.
On Tuesday, FEMA rejected a formal request made by the governor of Puerto Rico in December to activate the program. If approved, Nelson’s legislation would require the agencies to immediately activate DHAP for anyone still displaced by last year’s storms – including hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families in Florida who could soon be forced out of their hotel rooms on June 30.
In addition to Nelson, the bill is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
A copy of the legislation is available here.
Governor Rick Scott made the following statement today regarding FEMA extending the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program (TSA) for families who were displaced due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For more information click HERE.
Governor Scott said, “Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico with their continued recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the past seven months since Maria made landfall, we have remained in constant communication with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his leadership team and I have made five trips to Puerto Rico to offer our full assistance and guidance. Florida remains the only state with a Host-State Agreement with FEMA to help families from Puerto Rico. I also recently spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long about our joint efforts to make sure we are doing everything possible to help those who evacuated here. This includes keeping the FEMA case managers I requested on the ground across our state to offer assistance. I’m glad to hear that FEMA is once again extending Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) for the many families from Puerto Rico in the Sunshine State and we continue to stand ready to assist in any way possible.”
Action taken by Governor Scott following Hurricane Maria:
- On September 28th, at the request of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, Governor Scott traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico to help coordinate response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.
- On October 5th, the Governor entered into a host-state agreement with FEMA – Florida is the only state willing to enter into this type of agreement to help families displaced by Hurricane Maria.
- On October 11th, Governor Scott met with Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture Congressman Mike Conaway, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Congressman Michael McCaul, and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón regarding Hurricane Maria recovery.
- On October 30th, the Governor’s office sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget. See the letter HERE.
- On November 3rd, Governor Scott led a delegation of Florida utility providers to Puerto Rico at the invitation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
- On November 9th, the Governor activated the State Emergency Response Team to assist families displaced by Hurricane Maria. See the Governor’s press release HERE.
- On November 15th, the Governor sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan urging them to support Florida’s efforts to support those displaced from Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. See the Governor’s letter HERE.
- On December 21st, Governor Scott spoke with Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón regarding Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.
- On December 22nd, Governor Scott spoke with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen regarding recovery efforts for Florida and Puerto Rico.
- On January 3rd, Governor Scott sent a letter to the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations urging the Senate to immediately pass a significant Hurricane Irma and Maria disaster relief package. See the Governor’s letter HERE.
- On January 11th, Governor Scott spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long regarding the FEMA Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program and the importance of continued communication between federal, state and local partners as families continue to recover from Hurricane Maria.
- On January 12th, Governor Scott met with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and joined him for a Puerto Rico recovery town hall meeting to discuss ongoing relief efforts.
- On January 24th, Governor Scott, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, California Governor Jerry Brown and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló issued a joint letter urging the U.S. Senate to improve and expeditiously pass supplemental disaster funding, and for Congress to send the bill to the President. See the letter HERE.
- On February 5th, Governor Scott visited Puerto Rico with Governor Ricardo Rosselló to assist with ongoing Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
- On February 7th, Governor Scott spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long regarding Governor Scott’s recent trip to Puerto Rico.
- On February 7th, Governor Scott announced a new partnership to connect families displaced by Hurricane Maria with jobs in Florida. See the announcement HERE.
- On March 5th, Governor Scott traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón and attend the Puerto Rico State of the State Address.
- On April 18th, Governor Scott met with Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón in Washington D.C. to discuss how Florida is working to help Puerto Rican evacuees in the state.
- On April 18th, Governor Scott also spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long to discuss the FEMA Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program and the importance of keeping the FEMA case managers the Governor previously requested on the ground across the state.
- On April 23rd, at the invitation of Puerto Rico Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera-Marin, Governor Scott traveled to Puerto Rico for the fifth time since Hurricane Maria devastated the island to continue to offer guidance, advice and assistance regarding ongoing recovery efforts. Governor Scott met with emergency management officials, federal officials and Puerto Rican leaders. The Governor also visited with volunteer workers with the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico to thank them for their continued efforts.
Hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families who have been living in Florida since Hurricane Maria devastated the island could soon find themselves homeless with nowhere to go, if FEMA follows through with plans to stop providing them the temporary housing assistance they have come to rely on in wake of the storm.
FEMA officials told federal lawmakers this week that they plan to stop providing Transitional Shelter Assistance, or TSA, to more than 1,600 displaced families across the country – including 600 in Florida – as early as Friday. The move would likely cause hundreds of displaced families to be suddenly evicted from their hotel rooms and leave them scrambling to find a new, affordable place to live.
To help those still relying on the FEMA program and prevent them from being suddenly evicted, a group of mostly Florida lawmakers – led by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) – today called on FEMA to reconsider its decision to abruptly end the program for these families; and instead work with the governor of Puerto Rico to extend the program through, at least, the remainder of the current school year.
“At a minimum, the deadline for TSA should coincide with the end of the school year for mainland states,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter today to FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, “After Hurricane Maria devastated the island, more than 10,000 students from Puerto Rico enrolled in Florida schools. These children have already had their lives and educational experiences disrupted by a devastating storm and deserve the opportunity to complete their school year.”
FEMA’s TSA program pays hotel owners to provide hotel rooms to displaced victims of a storm. Once FEMA decides it will no longer provide a displaced family with TSA benefits, hotel owners will often evict them from their property.
With some parts of Florida already experiencing a shortage of affordable housing due, in part, to a sudden influx of displaced Puerto Ricans living there since the storm, these sudden evictions could leave some families – who are still unable to return home to Puerto Rico – with nowhere to live.
In addition to Nelson and Rubio, the letter sent today urging FEMA to continue providing assistance to these families was signed by Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Darren Soto (D-FL).
A pdf copy of the letter is available here.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (FL-26) today sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long urging the agency to expedite the reimbursement of disaster-related expenses owed to local governments in Florida and elsewhere.
“Local governments are cash-strapped with little to no funding in their budgets to repair damaged communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is critical that FEMA responsibly provide local governments with the assistance Congress appropriated to address current damages and the ability to prepare communities for the upcoming hurricane season.”
Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, addressed the issue at hearing the panel held earlier today on hurricane preparedness. “There are some areas where we can and must do better,” Nelson said. “Puerto Rico is an example, Florida is an example. That local governments are still not being compensated for the debris pickup that they have advanced – that is unacceptable.”
Here is a link to video of Nelson’s comments at today’s Commerce committee hearing:
A .pdf copy of the lawmakers’ letter is available here.
Under pressure from lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who took to the Senate floor yesterday to call on FEMA to continue providing aid to the people of Puerto Rico “until all of the island has access to potable water and electricity,” FEMA officials reportedly said today that the agency has reversed its decision to end the distribution of food and water aid to the people of Puerto Rico and will continue providing food and water to communities in need.
“The people of Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from two massive hurricanes, and cutting off aid to them now would have been a travesty,” Nelson said today. “Reversing this disastrous decision was the right thing to do.”
Here’s a background article on the agency’s decision today:
In Reversal, FEMA Says It Won’t End Puerto
Rico Food And Water Distribution Wednesday
By Adrian Florido
Published: Jan. 31, 2018
A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that the agency’s plan to end its distribution of emergency food and water in Puerto Rico and turn that responsibility over to the Puerto Rican government would not take effect on Jan. 31.
“Provision of those commodities will continue,” spokesman William Booher said. A different spokesperson, Delyris Aquino-Santiago, had earlier told NPR that it would “officially shut off” its food and water mission on the island on Jan. 31 and hand its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing. But on Wednesday, Booher said that date “was mistakenly provided.”
The agency has been working on that transition but has not finalized it, he said, adding that in the meantime, FEMA will continue providing food and water to communities on the island that need them.
The turnabout came after politicians from both political parties reacted angrily to news of FEMA’s plan and after the Puerto Rican government released a statement saying it had not been informed of the impending change. On Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties had called on the agency to reverse its decision.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he was “absolutely shocked” by FEMA’s decision. “I urge the administration to reverse this disastrous decision immediately and to continue providing the people of Puerto Rico with the help that they need as they are trying to recover from two disastrous hurricanes.”
His concerns were echoed by Democrats and Republicans alike, including Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“There are still a lot of people that wonder why we are giving foreign aid to Puerto Rico,” Rubio told USA Today. “You have to remind them, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens.”
But perhaps the most surprising reaction came from the government of Puerto Rico itself. In a statement, the island’s public security secretary, Hector Pesquera, said that while he was aware that FEMA would eventually transfer responsibility for distributing food and water supplies over to the island’s government, “this has not happened yet and we were not informed that supplies would stop arriving.”
His statement contradicted information that FEMA sent NPR in an email last week. An agency spokeswoman wrote that “FEMA will continue to provide commodities to the State [Puerto Rico] until January 31st.”
But as public concerns mounted over FEMA’s plans following NPR’s report, the agency released a new statement. While reiterating its belief that emergency food and water supplies were no longer needed on the island, it said that FEMA would “continue to support the Government of Puerto Rico to meet the needs they identify.”
Spokesman Booher said one thing that had not changed was FEMA’s plan to end the shipment of new food and water supplies to Puerto Rico. He said the agency is confident it has enough of a stockpile there already to meet the need that remain. If supplies run out, he said FEMA would reconsider purchasing more. He did not say when the agency would finalize its plan to hand the remaining supplies over to the Puerto Rican government.
Also Announces FEMA Case Management Agreement and Housing Information Request
Governor Rick Scott joined a town hall in Kissimmee with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and announced the following:
- A $1 million investment in 12 of Florida’s local workforce development boards to assist families displaced by Hurricane Maria seeking employment;
- Following Governor Scott’s request to the federal government, FEMA will now provide case management services for families displaced by Hurricane Maria now in Florida; and
- At the Governor’s direction, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) today sent letters to local housing authority officials and community leaders to identify local and federal resources so there is better coordination in the joint local, state and federal response to housing needs for Puerto Rican families in Florida. See one of the letters HERE.
Governor Scott said, “Today, I was proud to attend a town hall with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and announce a $1 million investment for 12 of Florida’s local workforce development boards to continue to assist families displaced by Hurricane Maria seeking employment. To date, the CareerSource Florida network helped more than 7,600 Puerto Ricans find jobs in Florida and this investment will connect even more individuals with great jobs. I was also proud to announce today that following my request, FEMA has agreed to provide case management services to Puerto Rican families in Florida. These services will assist families on an individual basis with planning for their recovery needs.
“Finally, today, at my direction, DEO sent letters to local housing authority officials and community leaders to help identify resources and to help assist in coordinating a joint local, state and federal response to housing needs for families displaced by Hurricane Maria. We look forward to receiving this information and continuing this important work with our local and federal partners to find housing solutions. Florida is the most welcoming state in the nation and we will continue to do everything possible to help the Puerto Rican families recovering from Hurricane Maria in our state.”
Executive Director of DEO Cissy Proctor said, “The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and our partners continue to work diligently with communities across the state to provide assistance to displaced Puerto Rican jobseekers and families. We are currently assessing housing and employment services so that we can better meet the needs of those who came to Florida for help after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.”
CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard said, “The CareerSource Florida network is a resource for all Floridians seeking new or better careers, and we are here to help make those connections for Hurricane Maria survivors looking to begin new lives. Our network of dedicated workforce professionals continues to work tirelessly to assist Floridians and businesses recovering from Hurricane Irma, new arrivals fleeing the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and any individual who needs employment assistance.”
Representative Bob Cortes said, “I’d like to thank Governor Scott and our many partners across the state for their continued efforts to support Puerto Rican evacuees coming to Florida and still working to rebuild months after Hurricane Maria. I’ve seen the devastation on the island first-hand and heard directly from evacuees in communities across the state. Many of these families lost everything, and finding job opportunities is a huge step forward in rebuilding their lives. The best assistance for any family going through a tough economic time is a job for the parents. Our Florida model should serve as an example for the entire country.”
Representative Rene Plasencia said, “As fellow Americans, and now fellow Floridians, our priority is connecting displaced Puerto Ricans with every resource they need to thrive in our state. With this additional funding, CareerSource will have the capacity to help hundreds of more families. We will continue to work with Governor Scott and our federal, state and local partners to address the needs of Puerto Rican evacuees to ensure full recovery for every family.”
Representative David Santiago said, “I’m proud to join Governor Scott and leaders across the state standing united for Puerto Rico and the full recovery of its families following Hurricane Maria. With over 254,000 job openings across the state, Florida is full of opportunities for evacuees to find a job to help support their families.”
The funds, allocated by CareerSource Florida and distributed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, are designated for employment services to assist evacuees in the five counties served by CareerSource Central Florida: Orange, Osceola, Lake, Sumter and Seminole counties. CareerSource North Central Florida, CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, CareerSource Flagler Volusia, CareerSource Brevard, CareerSource Tampa Bay, CareerSource Pinellas, CareerSource Research Coast, CareerSource Palm Beach County, CareerSource Broward, CareerSource South Florida and CareerSource Southwest Florida also received funds to provide career assistance to evacuees. More than 7,600 individuals displaced by Hurricane Maria have sought services through the CareerSource Florida network’s local career centers thus far, primarily in the Orlando area, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
The types of services for individuals displaced by Hurricane Maria that will be provided by the 12 local workforce development boards through this additional funding may include some or all of the following:
- Individual career consulting services
- The creation of a Specialized Job Development Team
- Extended hours at our Career Services Centers
- Increase access to English for Speakers of Other Language services
- Hiring events
- Increased partnerships with community-based organizations
- Surveys to assess employment needs
- Social media and/or direct email and/or texting and/or paid outreach
Governor Scott’s announcement follows two recent roundtables to discuss Puerto Rico relief efforts held in Doral and Orlando. CareerSource Central Florida and CareerSource South Florida are providing employment services at Multi-Agency Resource Centers in the Orlando area and Miami International Airport to Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria. Several local workforce development boards have held recruiting fairs and workshops to assist Floridians and others impacted by Irma and Maria. For additional information about employment opportunities, please visit employflorida.com, available in English and Spanish.
Governor Rick Scott today spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long regarding the FEMA Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program and the importance of continued communication between federal, state and local partners as families continue to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Following a decision by Puerto Rican officials working with FEMA, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) was notified that enrollment in the federal TSA program will be limited to individuals whose homes in Puerto Rico have not yet been determined by FEMA to be restored to safe and livable conditions and have power.
Governor Scott said, “We have worked non-stop to ensure families from Puerto Rico coming to Florida are offered every available state resource and the assistance they need to get back on their feet following Hurricane Maria. Our top priority is to ensure that every family displaced by Hurricane Maria gets the resources they need and that federal, state and local partners continue to work together to ensure a full recovery for these individuals.
“During my call with Administrator Long, we discussed the importance of ongoing federal, state and local support in the delivery of services to Puerto Rican families. I expressed to them the importance of making sure that all families from Puerto Rico in Florida know exactly what federal resources are available to them. I also asked FEMA what federal resources were available to help families return to Puerto Rico once it has been determined it is safe for them to do so. Florida is the most welcoming state in the nation and we invite every family from Puerto Rico to visit our Disaster Recovery Centers to receive information and assistance.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), in remarks on the Senate floor, said today that it is “unacceptable” that Floridians are having to wait up to four hours to speak to a FEMA representative about housing assistance.
“It’s been two months since hurricane Irma hit Florida,” Nelson said, “and our people are still hurting because they don’t have sufficient housing.”
“FEMA – through Individual Assistance – is supposed to provide temporary housing,” Nelson continued. “This is the law. That’s what the people of Florida are entitled to … but it’s not happening in Florida. Why? Because they get on the telephone and they have to wait up to four hours to get somebody on the phone from FEMA.”
“That is just unacceptable,” Nelson said. “It’s got to be changed. And, thus, you see the bipartisan effort on behalf of my colleague from Florida, Marco Rubio, and I writing to the head of FEMA today and saying: look, what happened even under the debacle years ago of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, there they experienced an average wait time of ten minutes before they could get FEMA on to the line to help them. Now, we have people waiting as much as four hours.”
Nelson and Rubio sent a letter today to FEMA Administrator Brock Long to raise concerns about the amount of time Floridians are being forced to wait for assistance.
Noting that Floridians are facing longer wait times than victims of previous disasters, the lawmakers cited a March 2006 report by the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Inspector General that found victims of Hurricane Katrina experienced an average wait time of 10 minutes before speaking with an agent by phone, and approximately 10 days for a home inspection.
“We recognize and appreciate the 4,000 inspectors in the field working tirelessly to help people in need of housing assistance,” the senators wrote. “However, the current wait times must be improved.”
The text of the senators’ letter to FEMA is available here.
Video of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here: https://youtu.be/bgKIhJAhkYc
And here’s a rush transcript of his speech:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
October 31, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, it’s been two months since Hurricane Irma hit Florida and basically covered up the state and our people are still hurting because they don’t have sufficient housing.
If you lived in a mobile home, if you lived in a low- lying area, your home was destroyed. It is uninhabitable, the ceiling is collapsing, the mold and mildew, because of being all the water in, has now accumulated. It is an uninhabitable home.
And FEMA, through Individual Assistance, is supposed to provide temporary housing. This is the law. That’s what the people of Florida are entitled to just like the people of Texas are entitled to in the presiding officer’s state.
But it’s not happening in Florida. Why? Because they get on the telephone and they have to wait up to, documented, four hours to get somebody on the phone from FEM. Or it takes home inspection 45 days before they can get an inspector to come out and see the home before they can be declared and be eligible for Individual Assistance.
And that is just unacceptable. Because if they don’t have the means, especially if they don’t have a job as a result of the jobs being destroyed in the hurricane, where are they going to be able to get temporary assistance for housing?
This is a fact that is happening in the state of Florida and it’s got to be changed. And, thus, you see the bipartisan effort on behalf of my colleague from Florida, Marco Rubio, and I writing to the head of FEMA today and saying, look, what happened even under the debacle years ago of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, there they experienced an average wait time of ten minutes before they could get FEMA on to the line to help them. Now we have people waiting as much as four hours.
And so, Mr. President, I wanted to bring this to the attention of the Senate. We cannot have the aftermath of a hurricane, two months after, where our people are hurting, they are suffering. They can’t live in a healthy condition in the existing homes that have been destroyed in the hurricane.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.