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FEMA voucher extension gives evacuees more time to plan next move

Hurricane maria evacuees now have until Tuesday to stay in their hotel rooms

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Luz Gonzalez and her mother, both Hurricane Maria evacuees, have been living in a Super 8 Motel for over half of a year. She lost everything in her home when the storm hit Puerto Rico. 

Gonzalez was one of many who anticipated having to check out Sunday morning when her assistance voucher from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was set to expire. When federal Judge Leo T. Sorokin extended all vouchers in the United States until checkout time Wednesday, Gonzalez was still left feeling uneasy.

"We're on the verge of not knowing what we're going to do now," Gonzalez said.

The voucher extension comes after advocacy group LatinoJustice filed a lawsuit to attempt to block the eviction of Maria evacuees.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said these evacuees have a few options moving forward. He said evacuees can find affordable housing in the U.S., go back to Puerto Rico, relocate to follow jobs or even stay in hotels, but pay weekly rent.

"We have over 200 cases. We're slowly closing them out," Soto said. "It takes a lot of staff connecting people and making them make the tough decisions that they're going to have to make."

Prerak Patel, the manager of the Super 8 Motel where Gonzalez and her mother are staying, said he is willing to work with those living in his building.

"We are here to run a business and my door is always open to anybody. If I can assist them in any fashion, I will do what's within my power to help them out," Patel said.

Despite the extension, Gonzalez and her mother have decided to leave early.

"I found a place but I'm going to pay $1,300 a month. My mom only makes $900 so I don't know how we're going to do it but I'm going to find a job," Gonzalez said. "But, other people who don't know English, it's not the same thing."

Gonzalez said she wants people to know she's in Florida because she has nothing left for her back on the island.

"We didn't come here because we wanted to," Gonzalez said. "We came here because we lost everything and we're trying to get something. We're not here on vacation or using FEMA's money. It's not like that. It's not the land of Mickey Mouse how they think it is."