WASHINGTON DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) yesterday, Feb. 12, sent a letter to Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), requesting that FEMA allow Puerto Rico evacuees currently enrolled in the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program to continue living in TSA shelters until March 20, 2018, regardless of whether FEMA determines that their homes in Puerto Rico are habitable.
FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program provides temporary shelter to individuals whose homes are “[uninhabitable] or inaccessible due to a Presidentially-declared disaster.”
Under the TSA program, eligible applicants can stay free of charge in participating hotel and motel rooms.
After Hurricane Maria destroyed over 70,000 homes in Puerto Rico and left 300,000 more damaged, FEMA and the government of Puerto Rico made the TSA program available to Puerto Rico evacuees who are “unable to return to their homes because they are displaced.” In December, FEMA announced that it was extending TSA benefits until March 20, 2018, and that the extension would include two eligibility checks for the program’s beneficiaries.
“While we recognize the need for FEMA to conduct periodic review of program eligibility, we are concerned by reports that evacuees deemed ineligible for the TSA program have been forced to leave hotels and motels with few financial resources and little access to alternate housing options,” the senators wrote in their letter to FEMA. The senators’ letter also cited reports that many families who lost TSA benefits after the first eligibility review “did not have money to pay for housing and would be left homeless.”
The senators also noted that some of the families who have appealed FEMA’s eligibility determination have argued that they do “not actually have habitable houses to return to” and are unable to receive TSA benefits throughout the appeals process. “Though the FEMA appeals process can take up to 45 days, appealing families cannot receive TSA benefits while they wait—leaving many stuck without the financial resources to return to Puerto Rico or pay for temporary housing in the interim,” the senators continued. Given the challenges faced by evacuees who lose access to the TSA program, the senators requested that FEMA allow evacuees to continue living in TSA shelters until March 20, 2018, even if an eligibility check determines that their homes are habitable.
A similar request was made last week to FEMA by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and the Mayors of Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester.