The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reversed course again and has given 45 displaced Puerto Rican families now living in hotels until today to find other housing.
The families have been staying in hotels under FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program, which provides shelter while their relief applications are being reviewed. Two of the families are in Meriden, according to information from U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s office.
Last week, FEMA announced it would extend aid for these families, whose applications have been denied, through Feb. 14, but the agency reversed that extension earlier in the week. The decision was initially effective immediately, but was then extended through today.
Many of these families continue to report that their homes in Puerto Rico lack access to sanitary water, functional utilities, and sound roofs, according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office.
“This three-day extension is the least FEMA can do — a weak attempt at damage control,” Blumenthal said. “These families — and the communities and schools hosting them — deserve stability and certainty. Until their homes in Puerto Rico have sanitary water, functional utilities and sound roofs, it is FEMA’s responsibility to help ensure they have a safe, affordable place to live. That is our basic obligation and the (Trump) Administration’s response thus far has been a shameful failure.”
Blumenthal joined U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, on a fact-finding visit to Puerto Rico earlier this month to inspect the destruction following Hurricane Maria and the federal government’s response.
In a letter last week to FEMA, Blumenthal, Murphy, and Gov. DannelP. Malloy urged the agency to immediately extend TSA aid to families whose homes in Puerto Rico remain dangerously uninhabitable. Blumenthal’s letter followed numerous calls to his office from families who have been abruptly terminated from the TSA program and given mere days to find alternative arrangements to return to Puerto Rico.
Blumenthal urged FEMA to immediately adopt basic habitability standards for the TSA program that include at a minimum access to sanitary water, functional utilities, and sound roofs.
FEMA is processing eligibility applications in the wake of the Sept. 20 hurricane. The 45 familes are a subset of 195 families in the state who have applied for assistance. A common reason is the property is not adversely impacted. Another reason is missing paperwork.
Congressional lawmakers take exception to the denials. In addition to disagreeing with the standards for safe habitats, they say any lost paperwork is a natural fallout from a hurricane and, in many cases, an unreasonable request.
FEMA’swebsite lists several reasons for denial:
The person is insured and needs to provide an insurance settlement or denial to be considered for assistance.
Additional information is needed from the survivor, i.e. proof of identity, proof of occupancy, annual income or a child care assistance letter.
There were multiple registrations using the same address.
Damages occurred to a secondary residence (where the survivor lives less than six months of the year).
The home is safe to occupy and/or personal property had minimum or no damages.
Missed inspections and no follow-up communication with FEMA.
FEMA is unable to contact.
Once an applicant understands the reason for being ineligible, they can decide whether to appeal the decision. To do so, they need to submit all required information with a letter describing in detail their reasons for appealing, according to FEMA.
The 211 Infoline is the lead source in the state for helping match Puerto Rican refugees seeking basic needs including shelter and medical care.
According to Richard Branigan, chief adiministrative officer for the American Red Cross for Connecticut and Rhode Island, the advocacy groups and six relief centers have partnered to provide services for the families. The affected families can contact 211, who will refer them to agencies that can help provide alternative shelter.