A U.S. federal judge has ordered emergency officials to extend hotel vouchers for about 1,700 Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Maria last year.
The vouchers were to have run out early Sunday.
Judge Leo Sorokin ruled the hotel vouchers will be good at least until Wednesday. He will hold another hearing Monday to determine if the vouchers should be extended even further.
“The irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is obvious and overwhelming,” Sorokin wrote hours before the deadline. “Tomorrow morning, they will be evicted and homeless since by definition, each plaintiff’s home was rendered uninhabitable by the hurricane in Puerto Rico.”
Sorokin also wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has neglected to provide proper aid for the hurricane victims from the U.S. territory.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of Puerto Ricans against FEMA, saying the agency was ending its Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) without a plan for moving the evacuees into longer-term housing. The lawsuit says for many who fled storm-damaged Puerto Rico, returning is not an option.
“By discontinuing the TSA program, FEMA is knowingly withholding desperately needed support to these marginalized American citizens, putting TSA evacuees at risk of homelessness and other irreparable injury,” the suit says.
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings, and causing more than $100 billion in damage. The territory is still struggling to recover.