Puerto Rican families displaced to Connecticut by Hurricane Maria were told that they are no longer going to be receiving federal assistance to pay for their stay. According to a new report from BuzzFeed, the families were promised days earlier that their temporary housing assistance would be extended.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to extend housing assistance to 36 families for an extra month beyond its initial Jan. 13 expiration date, but FEMA quickly reversed its decision and halted payments immediately for the families’ hotels.
The state attempted to step in with funds, but some of the families had already been removed from their rooms. "These people are experiencing a second level of trauma because they are being told one day they are safe and eligible and 24 hours later they're out of luck," the governor's deputy communications director, Jason Novak, told BuzzFeed News. "It's exacerbating an already painful, emotional situation."
No one knew the assistance was being revoked until Thursday, when FEMA told hotels the families needed to check out by 2 p.m. the same day. FEMA officials told BuzzFeed that some families were no longer considered eligible to receive aid, because of the status of their homes in Puerto Rico. “Upon review of their case files, we found that 24 were ineligible for the [transitional shelter assistance] because after inspection of their dwellings, it was determined they had little or no damage and their utilities were on," FEMA public affairs director William Booher said.
But Connecticut officials are pushing back on that claim, since FEMA has yet to provide evidence and so much of the island is still without power. According to BuzzFeed, 10,000 Puerto Ricans have checked into hotels across the country since the hurricane hit in October of last year. These 36 families and many others live in fear that they will lose their housing without having any other place to go.
“I came here because I lost my entire home,” Yara Vasquez Rivera said during a press conference for the families in Hartford on Friday. “We’re living in a constant state of fear, a constant state of terror. A constant state of terror. I don’t know what will happen to myself. My children. Can we stay at the Red Roof Inn? Can we not? These questions come up every day.”
Rivera found a job in Connecticut, but is struggling to find an apartment since her applications keep getting denied.“We're here because we don't have anywhere to go back to,” she said. “Our homes are gone. We are here to start a new life. But that new life is almost impossible to reach.”