NEW BRITAIN - In a room packed with community stakeholders, local representatives and survivors of Hurricane Maria on Friday morning, U.S. Sens.Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy condemned the lack of federal action to help displaced Puerto Ricans.
“There are 13,000 people here in Connecticut who have come to escape that disaster, and many of them still have no permanent home,” Blumenthal said.
The Transitional Shelter Assistance program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has housed hundreds of families in Connecticut who fled Puerto Rico after last year’s disastrous hurricane season.
The program has repeatedly been shut down by the federal government, but federal judges have blocked the shutdown. On Thursday, the court ordered a new extension of the program through Aug. 7. Thirty-five people in the state are still a part of the program.
During Friday’s meeting, which also included people representing the Greater Hartford Puerto Rican Day Parade, JUNTA for Progressive Action, United Way of Connecticut and other organizations, Blumenthal and Murphy called for President Donald Trump’s administration to activate longer-term housing assistance for families from Puerto Rico while developing a comprehensive rebuilding plan for the island.
Blumenthal said the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is continuing, even as the region begins another hurricane season.
“Sixty-thousand people in Puerto Rico still have tarps for roofs … that’s 10 months after the hurricane. There’s still an absence of infrastructure, health care, hospitals, schools, clothes,” Blumenthal said. “The American response to this humanitarian crisis of fellow Americans has been shameful and disgraceful, and we should never lose sight of the continuing challenges of those Americans in Puerto Rico.”
Murphy echoed his colleague’s comments and said there is a lot of work to go on behalf of the federal government. The senator said Puerto Rico has not received the aid other areas of the country have previously received following a natural disaster.
Wildaliz Bermudez, a member of Hartford’s City Council, said there is a feeling of “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to helping Puerto Rico following last year’s disaster. Bermudez, along with Murphy and Blumenthal, said the FEMA should activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for displaced residents, a program that helps families pay for rent even if they initially can’t afford it.
“HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) housing vouchers are needed. DHAP was being given in other relief efforts for other disaster zones, that was not the case for Puerto Rico,” Bermudez said Friday. “There have been inconsistencies with how the people of Puerto Rico have been treated as soon as they arrived here.”
Everyone who spoke Friday said that housing was the No. 1 concern facing displaced residents. Richard Porth, president and CEO of United Way of Connecticut, said his organization has received more than 5,000 phone calls through 2-1-1 this year from residents related to housing. He said many displaced Puerto Rican families are probably double up or tripled up with families all in one apartment.
“FEMA has the resources – it lacks the will,” Blumenthal said.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087