February 12, 2018

Warren, Markey Urge FEMA to Extend Benefits for Transitional Shelter Assistance Program to Puerto Rico Evacuees

Senators Request FEMA Allow Evacuees to Remain in TSA Shelters until March 20, 2018

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), requesting that FEMA allow Puerto Rico evacuees currently enrolled in the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program to continue living in TSA shelters until March 20, 2018, regardless of whether FEMA determines that their homes in Puerto Rico are habitable.

FEMA's Transitional Shelter Assistance program provides temporary shelter to individuals whose homes are "(uninhabitable) or inaccessible due to a Presidentially-declared disaster." Under the TSA program, eligible applicants can stay free of charge in participating hotel and motel rooms.  After Hurricane Maria destroyed over 70,000 homes in Puerto Rico and left 300,000 more damaged, FEMA and the government of Puerto Rico made the TSA program available to Puerto Rico evacuees who are "unable to return to their homes because they are displaced." In December, FEMA announced that it was extending TSA benefits until March 20, 2018, and that the extension would include two eligibility checks for the program's beneficiaries.

"While we recognize the need for FEMA to conduct periodic review of program eligibility, we are concerned by reports that evacuees deemed ineligible for the TSA program have been forced to leave hotels and motels with few financial resources and little access to alternate housing options," the senators wrote in their letter to FEMA.  The senators' letter also cited reports that many families who lost TSA benefits after the first eligibility review "did not have money to pay for housing and would be left homeless."

The senators also noted that some of the families who have appealed FEMA's eligibility determination have argued that they do "not actually have habitable houses to return to" and are unable to receive TSA benefits throughout the appeals process.   "Though the FEMA appeals process can take up to 45 days, appealing families cannot receive TSA benefits while they wait--leaving many stuck without the financial resources to return to Puerto Rico or pay for temporary housing in the interim," the senators continued.  Given the challenges faced by evacuees who lose access to the TSA program, the senators requested that FEMA allow evacuees to continue living in TSA shelters until March 20, 2018, even if an eligibility check determines that their homes are habitable.  

A similar request was made last week to FEMA by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and the Mayors of Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester.  

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

  • Requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Securityexpand its review of FEMA's contracting in Puerto Rico to include the $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for self-heating meals.
  • Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census.
  • Led her colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria.
  • Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request information on SAMHSA's efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
  • Led eight of her colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in writing to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for an investigation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. (The DHS IG has said it will investigate.)
  • Introduced a comprehensive plan, along with Senator Sanders and colleagues, to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.
  • Led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department's efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department's Puerto Rico response efforts. 
  • Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Urged Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico's debt restructuring completely write off the Island's debt obligations.
  • Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
  • Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
  • Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  
  • Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
  • Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
  • Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.