Judge: Feds can end housing aid for Puerto Rican evacuees

Judge: Feds can end housing aid for Puerto Rican evacuees

Judge: Feds can end housing aid for Puerto Rican evacuees

Judge Timothy Hillman on Thursday denied an effort to force the government to continue providing aid that has allowed evacuees to live in hotels in the U.S.

"While this is the result that I am compelled to find, it is not necessarily the right result", Hillman wrote.

The U.S. territory's governor this week raised the official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 - nearly twice the government's previous estimate. Until the recent update, Puerto Rico's government had said only 64 people died as a result of the storm.

Families now living in hotels will have to move out on September 14, once the program ends. On June 30 FEMA announced it would discontinue the program, prompting plaintiffs to sue the agency and ask for an injunction.

According to FEMA, 1,038 families displaced by Maria as of Thursday were receiving aid under a program that pays for hotel lodging. That number has been almost cut in half since June 30, the program's deadline before the lawsuit was filed, when there were 617 families enrolled, Castillo Gomez said.

A FEMA spokesman said the agency is working to notify hotels that evacuees will be allowed to stay until checkout time on September 14, but said there will be no further extension of the programs beyond that date. "Beyond that, FEMA will not comment on pending litigation", Castillo Gomez said. The program is known as "Transitional Shelter Assistance" (TSA).

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Puerto Rico's new death toll from Hurricane Maria is making the storm one of the deadliest hurricanes in United States history.

Rev. José Rodríguez, a steering committee member of the organization VAMOS4PR, said families still enrolled in the program could "end up homeless" if they can't find other arrangements in the next two weeks.

"FEMA's callous posture has dealt a harsh blow to the scores of families left in hotels who are the most vulnerable, with the least resources and fewest options".

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said the decision was "very disappointing news".

Critics have said the federal government responded poorly to the disaster.

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