Dozens of Puerto Rican families had FEMA housing funds cut: report

After initially being approved for an extension, 36 families were informed it was an error and had to leave

Published January 25, 2018 6:17PM (EST)

A flooded area after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. (AP/Carlos Giusti)
A flooded area after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

More than two dozen Puerto Rican families whose homes were devastated as a result of Hurricane Maria in September were abruptly informed that their temporary housing assistance in Connecticut would be cut short, after receiving an extension that was later determined to be a system error.

"I write today to request immediate reversal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) sudden decision to rescind" aid for 36 Puerto Rican families, Connecticut's Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote in a letter to FEMA head Brock Long on Jan. 18, NBC News reported.

Numerous families who were ousted from their homes due to the awful conditions left behind by the storm have received "short-term housing assistance under the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) Program" and have been staying in hotels in Connecticut.

Initially, the state put in a formal request for a two-week extension on Jan. 11 for roughly 45 families. The extension was granted through Feb. 14. Currently, there are roughly 166 families from Puerto Rico in the TSA program across the state, with 3,894 total survivors benefitting from the program across 42 states.

Less than one week later, on Jan. 17, "FEMA allegedly changed the status of those families in their database to terminate their hotel stays beginning the following day," NBC reported.

"This about-face is outrageous and unacceptable, and because of your agency’s abysmal management of this situation, 36 families — all of who are American citizens — are now, with no warning, being told by FEMA that they have no place to live," Malloy added in the letter.

The Connecticut governor was not informed of the change until Jan. 18, two hours before families were told to leave their hotel rooms, NBC reported.

"All things considered, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that the federal government sees the United States citizens who inhabit Puerto Rico as second-class," he added.

The error happened because there was a recent change in eligibility requirements, and the 36 families were no longer qualified for protection.

NBC elaborated:

The TSA program was extended to March 20 by request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, with eligibility reviews after the original program ended on Jan. 13 and again on Feb. 13, Booher said by phone later Wednesday.

"As part of the extension the government of Puerto Rico has placed some additional eligibility requirements," he said.

"That’s when the subset of 36 families came up as ineligible," he said, adding, "The original extension for this subset was done in error."

So far, 12 of the families have had their eligibility restored, and the remaining are working with FEMA, NBC reported.

The news comes months after the storm and several news cycles later, but the people of Puerto Rico have still been unable to fully recover from the devastation from Hurricane Maria. In the immediate aftermath, President Donald Trump's administration was highly criticized for having a slow response. Many critics saw Trump's overall lack of engagement as blatant neglect. "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders [...] in P[uerto] R[ico] forever," Trump tweeted in October.

By Charlie May

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Dannel Malloy Fema Funding Housing Hurricane Devastation Hurricane Maria President Donald Trump Puerto Rico