The Transitional Shelter Assistance Program: Waning Aid for Puerto Rican Evacuees
Although nearly six months have passed since Hurricane Maria made landfall, Puerto Rico still requires extensive aid. The storm, which caused approximately $37 billion in housing damages, has left more than 400,000 people still without electricity and many living in unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Individuals and families that have been displaced from their homes by the hurricane are facing yet another challenge: the approaching expiration of the Transitional Shelter Assistance program.
What is the Transitional Shelter Assistance program?
Run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transitional Shelter Assistance program currently finances temporary lodging in hotels for Puerto Rican evacuees who are unable to return home, due to severe damage caused by the storm. The program currently assists 4,000 families across 40 states and Puerto Rico, and is meant to serve as a short-term solution for refugees seeking permanent housing. 600 households in Massachusetts currently receive funding from the program.
When is the program set to expire?
Transitional Shelter Assistance will expire on March 20, unless individuals enrolled in the program can prove that their housing is still under repair or that temporary shelter is needed for medical reasons. However, approximately 200 households received notices on February 14 that FEMA would no longer pay for their stay, after determining that their residences in Puerto Rico were habitable.
What will be the impact of the program’s expiration?
The impending deadline poses several problems for families and individuals that have been told that they must go back to their homes in Puerto Rico or that they will no longer receive funding. For instance, some evacuees have returned to Puerto Rico to discover that FEMA officials had only inspected the exterior of their residences to determine whether or not they were safe, and did not observe structural or health issues, such as mold, in the interiors. Meanwhile, many evacuees are unable to afford travelling back to the island.
Thousands of refugees have settled into their new communities and want to stay. More than 1,300 families – or about 3,000 people – have filed applications with FEMA to receive permanent residency in Massachusetts. However, finding full-time employment and affordable housing options has proven difficult for many. The expiration of Transitional Shelter Assistance could leave evacuees who have been unable to find permanent residency without housing and financial support.
What’s being done to help evacuees?
Massachusetts leaders, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, have requested that FEMA extend Transitional Shelter Assistance until March 20 for all individuals currently enrolled. Supporting fundraising efforts that aid on-the-ground relief efforts in Puerto Rico and grassroots organizations helping displaced Puerto Ricans throughout the Commonwealth, our CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado continues to serve as co-chair of the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, which has already raised more than $3 million in donations.
At IBA, we will continue to support and empower Puerto Rican refugees in our community by helping them enroll in local school systems, register for federal disaster relief and apply for MassHealth, housing and other programs. As an organization founded 50 years ago by a group of Puerto Rican activists, we stand by policy initiatives that protect the rights of immigrants and refugees, and will continue to advocate for the development of affordable, safe communities throughout Greater Boston and nation-wide.
IBA is committed to ensuring the wellbeing of its residents and families in Puerto Rico. Please donate to the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico here: www.tbf.org/puertorico.