BOSTON (AP) — Nearly 1,700 Puerto Rican hurricane evacuee families living in hotels across the U.S. on Monday were awaiting a federal judge’s decision on their next home.
A hearing was held on another federal judge’s restraining order temporarily blocking their evictions.READ MORE: Dracut Woman Arraigned For Allegedly Torching 2 Police Cruisers
U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman heard plaintiff representatives and government attorneys on Monday at a phone hearing. He could announce his decision as soon as Monday night or as late as Wednesday morning.
The other U.S. District Court judge, Leo Sorokin, granted the temporary restraining order on Saturday. The order extends the evacuees’ time in hotels through Thursday.
Sorokin said ending federal housing assistance vouchers could irreparably harm desperate hurricane survivors with nowhere else to go.
The plaintiffs’ motion is to continue and extend the restraining order for at least 30 days pending a formal hearing for the court to consider testimony and other evidence.
Puerto Ricans began arriving after Hurricane Maria last September. Their Federal Emergency Management Agency housing vouchers originally were set to expire last weekend.
FEMA said the number of families in its housing program had decreased from 1,722 on Saturday to 420 on Monday.
Ariana Colon belongs to one of those families and has been living in hotels sponsored by the FEMA-run housing program in Kissimmee, Florida, since December. The 20-year-old former nursing student from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, is four months pregnant and is struggling to save enough money for a lease while working at Burger King and paying for child care for her son.
“FEMA didn’t let us know we had a certain amount of time,” she said. “We received a phone call four days prior to when we last had to move.”
She decided to join her boyfriend, who’s also an evacuee, in Florida after spending days trying to find formula for her son and not having access to clean water or food on the island after the hurricane.READ MORE: 11-Year-Old Girl Struck By School Bus, Seriously Injured In Braintree
She said she thinks victims of other natural disasters have been helped more than Puerto Ricans.
“They wouldn’t be kicked out, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be told to go back to where they came from,” she said.
Civil rights group LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed a lawsuit seeking relief for the Puerto Ricans on Saturday. Eight plaintiffs filed a class action alleging unlawful action by FEMA in Massachusetts, which has the highest number of evacuee families seeking federal help after Florida and Puerto Rico.
FEMA is offering to cover flight expenses for approved applicants and their household members. FEMA spokesman William Booher said the agency would comply with the judge’s order, but he would not comment on pending litigation.
FEMA’s assistant administrator of the recovery directorate, Keith Turi, explained the housing program’s background during arguments. He said the program had approved more than 7,000 Puerto Rican households that needed relief from the hurricane. He said case managers from the Department of Health and Human Services had talked with program users about the deadline.
Turi said on the Monday call that the program has been extended four times and that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who must request an extension of the program, agreed in May that no further extensions would be applied for.
Requests for comment from Rossello’s office were not immediately returned Monday.
Many of the plaintiffs tell stories of wiped-out residences on the island and ongoing medical conditions.
Forty-eight-year-old Denise Nieves, who has high blood pressure, lives in a hotel in West Springfield with her son, who suffers from neurological dysfunctions. Her home in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, was flooded. The complaint says “they will be left homeless” if they’re evicted from their hotel.MORE NEWS: Group Raising Money To Send Boy With Leukemia To Disney World
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