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
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.
As the rising number of Hurricane Maria refugees from Puerto Rico continues to pour into central Florida, state Senator Victor Torres (D-Orlando) echoed calls for FEMA to immediately dispatch emergency housing to temporarily shelter these families as they search for ways to rebuild their lives.
“The impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria are placing huge demands on our public services,” said Senator Torres, who gave impassioned testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday when he called on state Senate members to increase funds for state education, healthcare and housing needs. “We need to focus on building and expanding more housing options for Floridians and evacuees from the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico who are seeking refuge in our great state.”
Earlier this week, Central Florida Heart of Florida United Way Executive Director Jeff Hayward called on the Federal government, through FEMA, to engage in providing support for additional housing options in central Florida. Prior to Hurricane Irma and Maria, central Florida was already dealing with a shortage of available workforce housing. Based on the market value of rental properties in central Florida, workers would need to make $20.00 per hour in order to afford rent in the area.
Senator Torres’ district includes both Orange and Osceola counties which contain the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans living in Florida. FEMA has designated Florida as a Host-State for evacuees from the islands and approved costs could be eligible for 100 percent reimbursement by the federal government. Senator Torres is working with local and state officials for FEMA approval of both the deployment of mobile housing units and authorization of TSA (Temporary Sheltering Assistance) for evacuees to receive rental housing funds.
For more information please contact Al Yorston at (407) 846-5187
Florida lawmakers, led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), are calling on FEMA to quickly approve the governor of Puerto Rico’s request for additional assistance to help provide temporary housing for evacuees in Florida and elsewhere.
Nelson, in a letter he sent today with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and others, urged FEMA Administrator Brock Long to approve Puerto Rico’s request for Transitional Shelter Assistance, or TSA, a FEMA program designed to provide short-term lodging to individuals and families whose homes are uninhabitable following a natural disaster.
“The TSA program provides short-term lodging for individuals and families who are unable to return to their homes,” the lawmakers wrote. “With more than 3.5 million individuals affected by this storm, approving Puerto Rico’s request for TSA will provide desperately needed living accommodations for affected Puerto Rican families.”
FEMA’s TSA program makes direct payments to participating hotels and motels to provide temporary housing for evacuees.
If authorized, evacuees in Florida and elsewhere will be eligible to use the program to stay in a hotel or motel for a limited time and have the costs covered by FEMA.
According to the state of Florida, more than 73,000 evacuees from Puerto Rico have already arrived in Florida since October 3rd, many of whom have no ties to the area and are unable to afford housing.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello requested Transitional Shelter Assistance for evacuees on Oct. 25.
In addition to Nelson and Rubio, the letter urging FEMA to quickly approve that request was also signed by Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Val Demings (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Al Lawson (D-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), John Rutherford (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
Following is the text of the lawmakers’ letter, and a PDF copy is available here:
October 26, 2017
The Honorable Brock Long
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20472
Dear Administrator Long:
In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we write in full support of Puerto Rico’s request for assistance under the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program. It is critical that we provide Puerto Ricans with essential lodging assistance during the recovery process.
The TSA program provides short-term lodging for individuals and families who are unable to return to their homes for an extended period due to a natural disaster, such as a hurricane. With more than 3.5 million individuals affected by this storm, approving Puerto Rico’s request for TSA will provide desperately needed living accommodations for affected Puerto Rican families.
Unfortunately, it will be months before we fully realize the devastation Hurricane Maria has caused to Puerto Rico. While families seek stability and safety in the aftermath of this storm, we request swift approval of this invaluable program.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.