Displaced Puerto Rican families who were preparing to leave their hotels and motels on Thursday will get to stay a bit longer.
A Massachusetts judge has forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue it's transitional housing program for Hurricane Maria evacuees through July 24. Between now and then, judge Timothy Hillman will hear arguments about whether FEMA has offered enough assistance to those who fled the island.
Kira Romero-Craft is an Orlando-based attorney with the organization that filed the lawsuit, Latino Justice PRLDEF. She said the majority of families have already transitioned off temporary housing, but those who remain need more time and resources.
"The folks that are left behind are the most vulnerable, the sick, the elderly, the single parent families," said Romero-Craft. "These folks are not asking for anything different than what was given during other natural disasters in this country and we should continue to support (them) and be concerned."
LatinoJustice PRLDEF is arguing that FEMA has not extended the same amount of housing assistance to Puerto Rican evacuees as they did during previous natural disasters. After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA offered rent-free housing assistance for more than two years.
"Anyone who has lived through a hurricane and has lost even power or shelter realize how difficult that is," said Romero-Craft. "But to find themselves in this situation 10 months later and having to fight in this way, it's hard."
Florida Senator Bill Nelson made a failed attempt on June 28 to force a congressional vote to extend the temporary housing assistance program. Advocates in Tampa Bay said that an immediate end to the program would leave evacuees little options but to return to the island or face homelessness.
In addition to temporary housing, FEMA has also offered air travel vouchers for those wishing to return to Puerto Rico. The agency said Tuesday that it would not comment on pending litigation.