A few dozen people gathered in front of FEMA’s Manhattan offices on Tuesday, chanting their support of Puerto Rico just weeks before the federal agency’s temporary hotel vouchers for families displaced by the hurricane are set to run out.
Supporters said those still on the island continue to suffer the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, and feel the government has failed them. FEMA’s hotel room housing support, or the Transitional Shelter Assistance program, is set to expire March 20.
Gina DeJesus, who has several family members in Puerto Rico, said simple conveniences like drinkable water and electricity are luxuries many on the island still don’t have. She said half of her family doesn’t have clean water and are getting sick from drinking what they have access to. She also has friends who need medicine but are struggling to get it because of poor road conditions.
“Human basic needs, that’s all we’re asking for,” she said. “Were asking for FEMA to please step up its game. You dropped the ball.
“We are not a Third World country,” she added. “We are American citizens and we should be treated as such.”
Anthony Torres, 68, has about five acres of land as well as a ground floor apartment in San Juan, and said all of his property was destroyed. He hasn’t been able to go back to Puerto Rico — downed poles and bad roads have made it near impossible to check on his land.
“I call every day. They’re waiting, they’re waiting for FEMA,” said Torres. “FEMA abandoned it, half the people have left . . . they’re hurting a lot.”
Torres, who lives in Midtown West, said he’s worried about friends who live on the island.
“They had to leave, there was no water, no light,” he said.
He added that he was optimistic, however, that speaking up would change people’s fortunes: “I’m positive . . . these movements do help.”
A representative for FEMA said in an email Tuesday that the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program is one of several short-term shelter options and is meant as a “bridge to other longer-term housing solutions.” In December, the agency extended the program from Jan. 14 to March 20.
“The response to Hurricane Maria is the largest, the longest and the biggest federal response to a domestic disaster in the history of the U.S. and in the history of FEMA,” the representative said in the email.