News & Media

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July, 3rd 2018

CONTACT:

Christiaan Perez, cperez@latinojustice.org, 212-739-7581

Erin Williams, ewilliams@faithinaction.org, 202-748-0699

Judge Extends FEMA Aid for Hurricane Maria Evacuees Pending Formal Hearing

WASHINGTON – Today, Judge Timothy S. Hillman issued an order backing extension of temporary restraining order (TRO) to July 23rd pending a formal hearing on the class action complaint seeking Relief for Hurricane Maria Evacuees. The plaintiffs seeking relief were represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and the Law Office of Héctor Piñeiro. This ruling reaffirms the importance of Puerto Rican evacuees having their day in the court and the need for aid that services the needs of our community beyond FEMA’s current understanding.

“This shows the power of people when they get together and organize, and ask for what they need,” said Denise Collazo, Chief of Staff for Faith in Action. This will give families who are in the process of reestablishing their lives – kids in school, parents who have started work – the opportunity to establish a long-term residence, and for those in need of regular medical attention the opportunity to not have their treatment interrupted. Those are parts of the steps you take after you’ve lost everything. We have the power to help people in this kind of situation – we just have to choose to do it.  FEMA needs to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) now!”

Plaintiffs highlighted the fact that Hurricane Maria is the largest natural disaster to have stricken the U.S. but the response by FEMA has been inadequate. On the eve of the termination of Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) there were roughly 2,000 people in the program, many of whom were going to be evicted from their housing with no place to go while a a number of them still faced serious health and financial concerns that further hindered their ability to find housing.

Plaintiffs went on to argue that the precarious situation that many of Hurricane Maria Evacuees face necessitate more long term support that goes far beyond June 30th, the date that was arbitrarily picked by FEMA as the end of TSA.

“LatinoJustice PRLDEF is very pleased that the court extended the TSA program on behalf of our families in desperate need for housing assistance,” said Kira Romero Craft, Managing Attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF Southeast Office.  “We, along with our co-counsel at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and local counsel Hector Pineiro, Esq.  welcome the opportunity to submit further briefing in support of our legal claims and to bring to light the disparate treatment the Puerto Rican survivors have received after Hurricane Irma and Maria.”

“It’s inconceivable that disaster victims have to continue to bring FEMA to court to force them to uphold their mandate and not discontinue the most basic aid to entire communities that have suffered through unimaginable disasters,” said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Fortunately, the court recognized the severity of the situation and the devastating consequences to evacuees who’ve already been displaced from their homes in Puerto Rico and is allowing them to stay in their hotels – a decision FEMA should’ve made on their own. This is not the first time FEMA has acted arbitrarily to cut off critical disaster relief to communities of color, though we hope it will be the last. There is a long way to go before FEMA provides these individuals with the relief they need and deserve.”

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Faith in Action, formerly known as PICO National Network, is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations. For more information visit www.faithinaction.org.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, originally established as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) in 1972, is one of the foremost national nonprofit civil rights legal defense and education funds working to advance, promote, and protect the legal rights of Latina/os throughout the nation. Our work is focused on addressing systemic discrimination and ensuring equal access to justice in the advancement of voting rights, housing rights, educational equity, immigrant rights, language access rights, employment rights, workplace justice, and the discriminatory effects of the criminal justice system, seeking to address all forms of discriminatory bias that adversely impact Latina/os. LatinoJustice PRLDEF supports self-determination and a process of decolonization for Puerto Rico.

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