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
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.
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.