Monday, June 17, 2024

FEMA denies housing aid to nearly 80% of Puerto Ricans applicants displaced by Hurricane Maria

After hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Marina were denied FEMA assistance to rebuild their homes, most of the families who have appealed the agency’s decision have not received aid.

FEMA has either denied or not answered 79 percent — almost eight-in-ten — of the appeals, leaving residents and officials worried about their fate as the island faces another hurricane season.

After denying at least 335,748 applications from thousands of Puerto Ricans asking FEMA for disaster assistance to fix their hurricane-ravaged homes, many decided to appeal the agency’s decision to not grant them aid. As of July 12, “there have been more than 43,000 appealed cases from survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Of those, more than 7,500 have been approved and more than 34,000 have been deemed ineligible,” said Lenisha Smith, a FEMA spokesperson, in a statement to NBC News.

According to FEMA, applicants can be “deemed ineligible” if they were not able to prove sufficient damage, or if the applicant could not be contacted for an inspection, or if the agency was unable to prove the applicant’s identity, occupancy or the home ownership status. One of the biggest issues after the hurricane was proving ownership among families who lacked a title or deeds to their home.

Adi Martínez Román, lawyer and executive director of Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance in civil cases for people in need, said she found FEMA’s way of denying and granting aid to be highly inconsistent. In the meantime, as Puerto Rico grapples with hundreds of thousands of families who have not received any FEMA assistance for their damaged homes, the island and the federal government have announced other initiatives to address the issue.