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U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, has joined with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to push for legislation that would force FEMA and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to activate DHAP for victims of hurricanes Irma and Maria through February 2019. Soto says that, for months, evacuated Puerto Rican families have lived on edge because of how FEMA has conducted its housing aid program. As of May 14, FEMA says 2,204 families are using Transitional Shelter Assistance at hotels in more than 30 states and Puerto Rico.
"I believe FEMA has underfunded the Hurricane María effort," Soto says. "They're looking to cut corners where they can fiscally, which is why they won't expand this program. It seems like a lot of folks in Congress feel like Puerto Rico should just be happy with what it gets, which is really tragic and problematic, given that they're Americans like everybody else."
In a statement, FEMA spokesperson Ron Roth says because of "lessons learned" from previous disasters, DHAP will not be implemented for Puerto Rico recovery efforts. Roth points to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that recommended FEMA not enter into additional DHAP agreements until "reliable program effectiveness and cost information has been developed."
"It wasn't a perfect solution," Roth says. "[That is] why HUD and FEMA are working to jointly identify those who meet criteria and help them directly."
Asked if FEMA has underfunded restoration efforts after Hurricane Maria, Roth says the agency has provided $710 million in housing assistance alone for Hurricane María survivors as of May 14.
Rodríguez maintains that FEMA has "failed in its duty to care" for the people who fled Puerto Rico.
"I hold FEMA responsible for not having a program in place to help vulnerable people like Betzy," Rodriguez says. "June 30 is approaching, and some of these families are going to fall off the cliff because there's no transition help for them."
Desiree Torres left Betzy's funeral early. She couldn't stand to see her friend in the coffin – it seemed like another person was there.
"I can't explain it, but she looked like she was still struggling to live," Torres says. "Her life was stolen. It was not her time."
Before the service, Sonia Burgos talked about her daughter's dreams. Santiago Burgos wanted to work as a nurse in Kissimmee and give her kids a stable home. She wanted her family to be united.
"I would tell her, 'Dale pa' lante! Dale pa' lante, que tú puedes. You're a warrior. You're a fighter,'" Burgos says. "I told her I would be there for her always. She was the light of my eyes. And she always will be."
At the funeral, Father Rodríguez remembered Santiago Burgos as an advocate for her boricuas in Kissimmee. Toward the end of the funeral, family and friends gave Santiago Burgos three rounds of applause for a job well done as a mother and daughter.
"She fought the good fight and she succeeded," Rodríguez says. "She was murdered, but she did not fail. She accomplished a lot of things for herself, her children and her community. She fulfilled her duty of care."