Displaced Puerto Ricans ask Gov. Scott to help them find permanent housing

'Don't let us end up homeless,' group says as federal housing aid end nears

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

BELLE ISLE, Fla. - Hundreds of Puerto Rican families living stateside will soon be cut off from federal funding to pay for temporary housing, many of whom have been unable to find permanent residency due to an affordable housing shortage.

FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance, known as the TSA program, will end permanently at the end of June for the estimated 1,651 families living in Florida and 27 other states.

On Friday, some of those families who left the Caribbean island after Hurricane Maria last year called on Gov. Rick Scott for help finding a permanent solution.

Affected families living in hotels, including the Woodspring Suites near the Orlando International Airport, gathered at the hotel Friday morning along with groups VAMOS4PR Action, Mi Familia Vota, Organize Florida and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Families held up signs that read, "Scott: Don't let us end up homeless."

Many evacuees who came to Florida and other states after Maria have struggled to find jobs that pay a living wage and can't afford the deposits required for rental properties. Some Puerto Ricans may not return to the island as it continues to recover.

Scott's communications director John Tupps responded after the event saying the governor continues to work with FEMA to help families in need.

“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," Tupps said. "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.”

Earlier this week, Scott met with Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rosello in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the P3 Summit, where both governors spoke about ways to rebuild the island and what needs to be done almost a year after the Category 4 hurricane ripped through the island.

Hours later, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is running against Scott for re-election this year, held a roundtable in Kissimmee with former Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla along with displaced Puerto Ricans.

Nelson said evacuees have few options without federal assistance.

"Well, as long as the administration the Trump administration refuses to extend the service then we are going to have chaos," Nelson said.

In May, Nelson filed a bill that would require FEMA to activate its Disaster Housing Assistance Program to continue providing housing assistance for people displaced by Hurricane Maria.

"I have urged over and over in speeches and letters, in phone calls to the administration, you ought to do to what you did for New Orleans under Katrina," Nelson said. "There is a disaster housing assistance program that is a law. It has to be activated by the Trump administration in which the more longer term assistance is there."

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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