Jessica Vicens via shutterstock
A destroyed home in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria (Jessica Vicens via shutterstock)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut has budgeted $600,000 to help Hurricane Maria evacuees land on their feet in the Nutmeg state.

Connecticut Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein said Monday in a letter to legislative leaders that they’ve come up with a plan to spend the money, which was allocated as part of the bipartisan budget adjustment.

The state will spend $250,000 to help 100 households pay their first months rent and a security deposit, another $300,000 will be spent on diversion assistance to make sure 300 to 600 families aren’t placed in the homeless services system, and $50,000 on six months of case management services.

The state, according to Klein, has been working with 1,245 households who came from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Connecticut temporarily or with the intention to stay permanently.

Klein said they prioritized families who were staying in hotels under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Temporary Shelter Assistance program.

“At one time there were as many as 187 households staying in these hotels,“ Klein said. “Since mid-January, the Department of Housing, under the specific director of the governor, and with the assistance of the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, has been providing assistance to families staying in these hotels who were suddenly faced with terminations of their TSA assistance from FEMA.”

Klein said they anticipate assisting more than 150 families in either returning home or finding a permanent place to live in Connecticut.

“There’s no denying that last year’s hurricanes were some of the worst on record, but in the aftermath the federal response has been shameful,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.  “Hurricanes Irma and Maria left the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands without electricity, without food, and without shelter. These American citizens should receive the same disaster assistance that they would receive if they lived in any other area of our country.”

Shortly after fleeing the devastated islands, many evacuees sought shelter in Connecticut and were offered federal assistance, which allowed individuals and families to secure a hotel room. When FEMA first began terminating that assistance in January, the Malloy administration stepped in to ensure these evacuees would not become homeless. 

At a press conference last week, Lily Velez-Herrera, a community activist in Hartford talked about the seven families who were living at Franciscan Center For Urban Ministry at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church. She said they were no longer receiving assistance from FEMA, but they still needed help. She said the volunteer efforts to shelter and feed these families can’t last forever.

“This is very sad,” Velez-Herrera said. “We should be ashamed of this.”

She called on government to step up its efforts.

The devastation left in the wake of the hurricanes has still left many individuals and families unable to return home.

“Working with our colleagues across state government and in the nonprofit sector, we have developed a coordinated response that has helped more than 200 households find permanent housing or who have been diverted from homelessness,” Klein said. “Disaster case managers continue to work with approximately 100 more households to address their immediate needs. While we are aware there are other individuals and families who are living with family or friends, the exact number is still unknown. They have yet to come forward for assistance, but when and if they do, the State of Connecticut is prepared to help them.”

Meanwhile, a federal court judge has extended FEMAs Transitional Shelter Assistance program until July 24 when he plans to issue a ruling on the program. The program, which pays the hotel bill for nearly 2,000 evacuees nationwide, has been in operation since Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20, 2017.

FEMA sought to end the program on June 30. Attorneys for a group of 8 plaintiffs got U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman to extend the program until July 24.

At least 21 families receiving that assistance are in Connecticut.

FEMA puts the number of families receiving housing assistance after Hurricane Maria at 962. Most are concentrated in Florida, New York and Massachusetts. At its peak the program was helping 7,000 families from the island.