Faced with a growing number of people coming to Florida to escape the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, state lawmakers are asking Puerto Rico’s governor to step in and help facilitate the process in Florida for helping to house those who are choosing to come here.
Democrats in the Senate and House sent a letter to Governor Ricardo Rossello on Monday. The Florida legislators are asking Rosselo to request FEMA assistance with housing evacuees currently living in Florida.
“We have been meeting and working with State Emergency Management officials for months, but many of the programs available under FEMA can only be approved if the government of Puerto Rico asks for them to be implemented,” said Senator Victor Torres, D-Orlando. “There are tens of thousands of families living in Florida and if just one family becomes homeless due to lack of action by the Federal government or those officials making decisions in Puerto Rico, it is one family too many.”
Approximately 225,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since September when the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Many of those evacuees are currently living with family or friends. Others are living temporarily in hotels paid for with FEMA vouchers.
The hotel voucher program, or Temporary Sheltering Assistance (TSA), is scheduled to expire January 15, leaving many wondering where they’ll be living in a few weeks. Since the Puerto Rican government has not requested FEMA approve the direct lease program to pay rental fees for those evacuees in Florida, no financial assistance is currently available
The problem is compounded because Florida already has a shortage of available affordable housing units, which means that local and state government agencies have limited resources to ensure housing options for the evacuees.
“These disasters have no quick remedy, yet it is both frustrating and heartbreaking to have to tell Puerto Rican families in South Florida that further assistance may not come due not to lack of resources, but to inaction,” said Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami. “It is imperative that we get FEMA support to rapidly and effectively help these families. The time to make that request is now.”