With the scheduled end coming for a federal emergency housing voucher program being used by Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, state Sen. Victor Torres and several other Democratic lawmakers are urging Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to ask the federal government for an extension.
The program provides temporary housing vouchers for people who’ve fled the island because of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria, which still plagues Puerto Rico. But housing assistance in Florida is only available to those Puerto Rican evacuees if the governor of Puerto Rico requests it, and his previous request expires Jan. 15.
Torres and a number of other Democrats in the Florida Legislature sent a letter to Rossello Monday urging him to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, and to request other FEMA housing assistance for Puerto Ricans who’ve fled to Florida.
Through last week, more than 200,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since early October. There’s no clear information available on where they are going in the state, and whether many of them are returning, but the preponderance have come to Central Florida — in a community that already has an affordable housing shortage. The crisis, Torres said, is that many may be without housing soon, if they’re not already.
The letter to Rossello warned of many becoming homeless.
“It’s reaching epidemic proportions,” Torres said.
In the letter to Rossello, Democratic Florida state Sens. Torres and Linda Stewart of Orlando, and Jose Javier Rodriguez and Annette Taddeo of Miami; and Democratic state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, John Cortes of Kissimmee, and Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando; declared there is an urgent need for temporary or transitional housing for the evacuees.
Gov. Rick Scott, his Division of Emergency Management, and many Republicans, notably state Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs and Rene Plasencia of Orlando, also have been working with the Puerto Rican government. Scott has waived many of Florida’s rules to allow for easy transition for the migrants. But Torres said the housing issue remains critical, and it’s in Rossello’s hands, because Puerto Rico “is calling the shots” on requests for FEMA assistance.
“Without any extension, thousands of people currently living in hotels are in jeopardy of becoming homeless,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Rossello.
“We know you are diligently working on recovery efforts for Puerto Rico, but we must also coordinate with your government for relief services needed in Florida,” the letter advises Rossello.
“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,” Torres said in a news release. “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.”