Judge Extends FEMA Aid for Hurricane Maria Evacuees Pending Formal Hearing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 3rd, 2018

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

Today, Judge Timothy S. Hillman issued an order extending the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued on Saturday, June 30, 2018 compelling FEMA to continue providing housing assistance to those Puerto Rican evacuees still residing in hotels until July 23, 2018, pending further legal briefing to be submitted to the court in this class action. 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.

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 was roughly 2,000 people on 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.

"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. 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," said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“We appreciate the courts approach, which recognizes the critical housing situation faced by these vulnerable families and provides an opportunity for the court to obtain the facts justifying their claim. We are confident that after the court sees the evidence, it will become clear how FEMA has failed in its legal responsibilities to these families, our fellow citizens,” said Craig J. de Recat, Partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

“Maria is no longer in the headlines, but the disaster is still here. Compounding the natural disaster is FEMA’s policy of treating Puerto Rican storm victims as expendable second-class citizens because of their economic status and ethnic background. The judge has ruled that at least they should have the chance to make their case in court before being tossed onto the street. For that we are grateful,” said Hector Pineiro

“LatinoJustice PRLDEF is very pleased that the court extended the TSA program on behalf of our families in desperate need for housing assistance. 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,” said Kira Romero Craft, Managing Attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF Southeast Office

"This shows the power of people when they get together and organize, and ask for what they need. 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 do have the power to help people in this kind of situation - we just have to choose to do it,” said Denise Collazo, Chief of Staff Faith in Action

“We are encouraged to see Judge Hillman’s ruling line up with what displaced families and VAMOS4PR have been saying all along, that FEMA and the federal government have toyed with the lives of thousands of Puerto Ricans for too long, and in the process denied them their rights and dignity as they struggle to recover from an unprecedented disaster. Beyond the type of aid that had served to pay for hotels, FEMA should provide families with the help they need, the means to resettle and find much-needed stability. In Florida, where the majority of displaced families have moved, Gov. Rick Scott should be ashamed that he has forced these families to resort to the courts because he didn’t use his authority and resources to take actions that were at his disposal to protect these families and help them rebuild their lives,” said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU and member of the Steering Committee for Vamos4PR.

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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.

Background Legal Documents

Asencio v FEMA Continuation of Temporary Restraining Order Hillman

Judge's official verdict extending the Temporary Restraining Order pending a formal hearing.

Read PDF

Temporary Restraining Order Filed to Stop Evictions of Families Displaces by Hurricane Maria

This press release was published shortly after we filed our class action lawsuit challenging FEMA's termination of emergency assistance.

More

Class Action Complaint for Relief for Hurricane Maria Evacuees

Plaintiffs Alian Ascensio, Aracelis Velez Cruz, Denise Nieves, Yaritza de Jesus Lopez, Rosa Rivera, Angel Lauriano Muñoz de Jesus, Bethzaida Crespo Vicente, and Iris Otero (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), by and through their undersigned attorneys, bring this complaint against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), William Brock Long, Thomas Van Essen, and Alejandro De La Campa, on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals.

Download Filing

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