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Puerto Ricans displaced to Florida by María face helplessness

Hundreds of Puerto Rican families displaced to Florida after the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in September 2017 face the threat of staying on the streets as the federal housing assistance they have received in recent months has expired.

“Starting on Sunday, our options will be a car, street or tent,” Betzaida Crespo, who has been living in the Orlando area of ​​the state center for six months, along with her husband, Erín Salgado, told Efe today. and her two children, ages 9 and 10, in a hotel room paid for by the Agency for Natural Disaster Management (FEMA, for its acronym in English).

Like them, after María’s passing, many families settled in small motels around the great tourist attractions of Orlando and the city of Kissimmee, where a large Puerto Rican community is based, and now they ask for help from the governor of Florida, Rick Scott. .

Crespo and other families erected tents in front of a hotel in Kissimmee, where the Florida branch of the Republican Party has held a two-day summit to draw the attention of state governor Rick Scott to his expected and imminent homelessness. .

“That is moved by our families and the situation we are going through,” said Crespo.

According to data from FEMA, since the passage of Maria, 1,763 Puerto Rican families reside in hotels and motels thanks to a temporary transition housing program of this agency, of which 534 are beneficiaries in Puerto Rico and 1,229 in states such as Florida.

To this state in the southeast of the country, which has reached some 300,000 Puerto Ricans displaced by the cyclone, some 650 families have requested this federal assistance.

“Maria took everything from us, including our homes,” insists Crespo, whose fear is shared by Sandra Rivera, mother of a child with disabilities whose husband works in Puerto Rico.

“My son needs medical treatments that he can not get in Puerto Rico, because nearby hospitals were destroyed by the hurricane,” Rivera said.

FEMA, according to its website, will finish the TSA program on June 30, but will report “a variety of federal, state and local resources” for the beneficiaries of these grants and, at the same time, asks that “the survivors are active participants in their own recovery. ”

“We do not have how to pay the three months of rent in advance that they charge us to rent a house or an apartment, in addition to requiring good credit, and good salary,” lamented Crespo.

During the Republican summit, and in which the situation of Puerto Rico was addressed, several local organizations gathered outside the hotel to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis on the island and the Puerto Ricans in Florida.

“There are two parallel realities: on the one hand, the so-called ‘1 percent’, white, rich, inside the hotel and outside the Puerto Rican families that are looking for help,” said Socorro Ramos Avilés, an activist with Faith Florida, a coalition of religious congregations that have raised funds for Puerto Ricans.

“But it’s not enough, they need the help of the government,” he says of displaced Puerto Ricans, victims of a “very large humanitarian crisis.”

In a letter sent today to the governor of Florida, which Efe had access to, 135 representatives of religious congregations asked Scott for compassion and that he should not do the same as FEMA, that is, turn his back “on Puerto Ricans who are still in crisis. ”
Likewise, legislators such as Bob Menendez, Bill Nelson, Bob Casey, Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren, among others, asked the federal agency to extend the deadline for the TSA program, otherwise families will have to live “in uninhabitable places, in shelters for the homeless, in cars, in the streets or pay more of their salary for rent “.

Julio Zayas, a Puerto Rican and member of the Boricua Vota and Puerto Rican Action Initiatives, assures that it is not easy to give or qualify for those other available resources that FEMA alludes to.

“The state has emergency funds and Governor Rick Scott could use part of these funds to help these families,” said the activist, who at the same time warned that this election year Puerto Ricans will demonstrate at the polls according to the support received. in this emergency situation.

Although authorities in Puerto Rico have recognized 64 deaths as a result of Hurricane Maria, a report from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico, revealed that 4,645 Puerto Ricans may have died.

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