Federal judge orders FEMA to extend housing aid for Puerto Rican evacuees to July 23

click to enlarge Federal judge orders FEMA to extend housing aid for Puerto Rican evacuees to July 23
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
A federal judge in Massachusetts has ordered FEMA to extend housing aid for Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane María until at least July 23.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman ruled Tuesday that an earlier temporary restraining order granted by Judge Leo T. Sorokin should continue for at least 30 days. The initial order was in response to a lawsuit filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF after FEMA stopped paying hotel vouchers for about 1,200 displaced Puerto Rican households in the continental U.S. under the Transitional Shelter Assistance program on June 30.

The lawsuit was filed on Saturday as many Puerto Rican evacuees prepared to leave hotel rooms in Orlando and Kissimmee – close to 600 families are staying in hotels across Florida, with the majority in Orange and Osceola Counties. The initial order by Sorokin forced FEMA to extend the program until July 5 to comply with the court order.

In his decision, Hillman said he wanted to give both parties time to prepare their arguments.

"I find that further briefing on the issues would be helpful to the Court," Hillman wrote in his order. "I would like the parties to address the
implication of the refusal of the Governor of Puerto Rico to request an extension of the TSA program benefits."

The TSA program will be extended until at least midnight on July 23, which means Puerto Rican families will be allowed to stay until checkout time on the morning of July 24.

FEMA spokesperson William Booher said in a statement that the federal agency would continue to work with its vendor and notify hotels of the extension. Booher added that FEMA would not comment on pending litigation.

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