Puerto Rican evacuees ask for Rick Scott to help them find housing as federal aid ends


  • Monivette Cordeiro
Puerto Rican evacuees who will soon be evicted from Central Florida hotels called on Gov. Rick Scott to act immediately to help them find stable housing.

Hundreds of families displaced by Hurricane María have been staying in hotels under FEMA's Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, which has provided hotel vouchers for thousands of families who fled from the island to the mainland. In May, FEMA announced it would cut off aid to the program by June 30 and offered to pay for plane tickets so Puerto Rican evacuees could go back home.

But local activists say Puerto Rico is still in a federally declared state of emergency. Thousands of people still don't have access to reliable electricity, potable water and needed medical care.

"Governor Scott must act now before families, seniors, and children thrown out into the streets," said Maria Revelles, a member of the organizing coalition Vamos4PR and organizing director of Faith in Florida. "As a member of the faith community, allowing this injustice to happen is morally wrong and goes against our values of humanity and decency."

Many displaced Puerto Rican families have had a hard time finding affordable housing in the Kissimmee and Orlando area. Local advocates say public housing lists are long and landlords are sometimes asking applicants to pay two to three times the amount of rent as a security deposit, which is hard to afford on Florida's minimum wage of $8.25.

Scott and Republican lawmakers have also been criticized for raiding $185 million out of the state's Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund for other budgetary purposes.

Ariana Colon, 20, said she and her 1-year-old son have nowhere to go.

"Returning to Puerto Rico, where so many are still suffering is not an option for many families," Colon said. "Before I came here, there were days when I couldn’t find safe drinking water to give formula to my baby. And trying to start over here, with such high rents and cost of daycare is very difficult. We’re just asking for a little relief. I don’t want to end up homeless."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Scott's office says the governor continues to work with FEMA to help displaced families.

"While TSA decisions are made by the Puerto Rican government and implemented by FEMA, Gov. Scott has continued to do all he can to ensure state resources are available to help families in need," said communications director John Tupps. "The Governor has also spoken many times with officials from Puerto Rico and the federal government. This includes working directly with FEMA Administrator Brock Long to support displaced Puerto Ricans by keeping the FEMA case managers the Governor requested on the ground across the state. He will continue to bring up this issue to federal officials and fight for every family in Florida."

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