Puerto Rican evacuees head to D.C. ahead of FEMA deadline - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Puerto Rican evacuees head to D.C. ahead of FEMA deadline

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(Western Mass News photo) (Western Mass News photo)

Dozens of displaced hurricane victims from Puerto Rico now living in western Massachusetts boarded a bus Wednesday morning for Washington D.C.

They are going straight to lawmakers to ask for disaster housing assistance as the latest deadline for temporary funding is set to expire at the end of the month.

Before the sun had risen on this morning, about 100 people who fled the devastated island of Puerto Rico following the wrath of Hurricane Maria last year were standing outside of a West Springfield hotel that some are now calling home, ready for a road trip to Washington.

“The goal here is to push FEMA to active DHAP," said Jose Rivera.

On June 30, the FEMA-funded temporary housing assistance will expire, meaning people like Rivera could go from having a roof over his head, to being homeless.

Rivera told Western Mass News that life in a hotel hasn’t been easy.

"We spent all of our money on food because they don't have a kitchen, so we gotta go outside to the fast food and buy food every day," Rivera added.

So now, those in need of help are calling for a federal disaster housing assistance plan, called DHAP.

It’s been activated before, providing long term assistance to people displaced following Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Rita.

Rosah Clase, who helped organize this bus trip, said through a translator that this assistance should be afforded to these evacuees too.

"It had happened in other cases like other hurricanes that happened, so that's the way it should be because it's not right for these people," Clase added.

Nationally, there are more than 2,300 families relying on this housing assistance.  According to the Pioneer Valley Project, there are 40 families living at this hotel that evacuated Puerto Rico.

Massachusetts received the second highest number of evacuees, only behind Florida.

On Wednesday, this group will meet with lawmakers who represent the Sunshine State and on Thursday, they’ll have a face-to-face with Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren who are a part of the team that’s spearheading the housing victims of major disasters act.

Rosah said that she hopes the act will be activated, as it has before, but right now, there is concern.

"Eight months in four walls in a hotel has been really difficult for the families, so she's seeing a lot of distress within the families, so it's really, really sad the situation," Clase said.

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