María Victims in Shock as FEMA Suddenly Ends Housing Subsidies

Puerto Rican families, including Yoselín Quiñones’ (back center), affected by Hurricane María fear homelessness after FEMA announced it will stop housing payments on April 21. (Photo via El Diario)

Last September, Yoselín Quiñones and her family lost everything as Hurricane María tore through Puerto Rico, leaving thousands of people affected by the disaster and pushing many Puerto Ricans to seek refuge in New York. Since then, the 28-year-old nurse, her 9-year-old daughter and her cancer-stricken mother have lived in a hotel room in Whitestone, Queens, paid for by the federal government. But now they, along with eight families – including seven minors and a senior with Alzheimer’s – in the same hotel, are bracing for an “even worse hurricane.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was paying for their housing, announced to them, and some 100 families in the Big Apple, that this Saturday they will need to leave the hotels in which they have taken refuge because its temporary housing assistance program will stop payments.

“Oh my God, I was told that we, as well as the more than 166 families that we have met, will be kicked out in six days. We are desperate, anguished by this injustice because we will end up being homeless,” said a tearful Quiñones, who criticized FEMA for its seemingly overnight decision. “I called yesterday and we were told that we got until May 14, but they just told me at the front desk that we need to leave on Saturday. This is terrible, and I know families that are even worse off because they have newborn children.”

[Editor’s note: On April 15, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted about a letter he wrote to FEMA administration William T. Long two days earlier urging continuation of Transitional Sheltering Assistance for the 86 families the mayor said FEMA had stated would lose support by April 21.  The mayor tweeted: “The Trump Administration cannot abandon Puerto Rico. New York City’s leaders are calling on FEMA to extend the Temporary Shelter Assistance deadline. Otherwise, we’ll do the job for them.”]

According to the mother, the federal government claims that she doesn’t qualify for more help after she got a $1,106 deposit to rent a two-bedroom apartment (…).

“Nobody gets an apartment at this price in New York. It’s not even enough for the three-month down payment… I don’t know what will become of me and the other families that are going through this… we are going to be homeless,” added Quiñones, who has suffered five panic attacks and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder.

She said that she has documented to FEMA that she can’t go back to her home in Juncos, Puerto Rico, because it was declared inhabitable, and she hopes that the federal government will at least fulfill its initial promise to help until June. “I have been working as a caregiver for the elderly, but with a weekly salary of $389 dollars you can’t save [enough] to move out,” she said.

Sonia Velásquez, from the organization YMCA, which has assisted people affected by María, deplored that FEMA is putting those struggling families under even more stress and agony.

“Many families were told only yesterday that there had been a mistake and there is no extension. This is not a game; it’s not fair that they are playing with these people who are desperate and scared. The level of depression is so strong that I know of families who are even considering handing over their children,” said the activist (…).

“We are going to keep fighting during those five days and see what we can achieve by Friday, because we have many leaders, such as the governor and the mayor, who are putting [on the] pressure,” added Velásquez.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who has organized several forums in the city to bring support and information about access to shelters and basic resources, had strong words for the federal administration.

“It is unacceptable that the federal government keeps leaving Hurricane María evacuees in the dark,” said James. “As FEMA’s support is running out, we are redoubling our efforts to find those affected housing and assistance.”

Mayor Bill De Blasio, for his part, reiterated that New York will support the affected families and sent a letter to FEMA’s administrator, William Long, asking him to extend the assistance beyond May 14.

(…)

In New York there are 2,100 families registered at the service centers for hurricane relief created by the city after the Puerto Rico disaster.

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: – De Blasio Throws Lifeline to Desperate María Survivors

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