FEMA mistakenly turns away Puerto Ricans at assistance center

by: Lauren Seabrook, WFTV Web Staff Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Central Florida mayors want to meet with state and federal officials to discuss the influx of Puerto Ricans coming to Florida after Hurricane Maria.

For weeks, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has voiced concerns about the lack of housing options in the county for Puerto Ricans.

Read: Orange County mayor request meetings with state, FEMA officials

Jacobs, along with the mayors of Osceola and Seminole counties have requested a meeting with the interim director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about short- and long-term accommodations for evacuees.

Meanwhile, FEMA announced Tuesday that they would provide housing for evacuees at 54 motels and hotels in Central Florida. However, Channel 9’s Lauren Seabrook found out Puerto Ricans who have went to the Puerto Rican assistance center at Orlando International Airport have been mistakenly turned away.

Other people told Eyewitness News that they were told an inspector on the island would have to verify damage to their home before they could get a hotel in Central Florida.

FEMA spokesman Peter Sessum told Eyewitness News that evacuees only have to show a proof of address. Sessum admits the hotel plan went out before staff workers at OIA knew about it.

"I'm going to make sure that people here are up to speed," Sessum said.

FEMA assures that if someone applies for a hotel in person, online or by phone, a FEMA worker will make sure to notify them if they're approved for a hotel.

Read: Seminole County mayor writes letter to state, FEMA officials

The Florida Division of Emergency Management released the following statement in response to Jacobs' letter:

"We have received the letter from Mayor Jacobs and are glad to partner with the mayor, our local partners and the federal government on this critical issue. DEM is completely focused on our shared goal of ensuring that we are meeting the needs of every family recovering from disasters in our state, including those who have evacuated to Florida following Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact.
 
Although the Federal government, through FEMA, provides disaster survivor housing programs, volunteer organizations, arranged by DEM, are currently providing hotel vouchers to evacuees on a case by case basis. These vouchers are being offered at our disaster relief centers at the Miami and Orlando international airports. This is in addition to the numerous other services being provided at these state run centers, which have been a tremendous success. 
 
The state proactively and aggressively sought and secured a host state agreement from FEMA to provide 100 percent reimbursement for sheltering efforts, which is a local function. As communities develop their local plans, the state stands ready to help with solutions. We will continue to work with our federal and local partners to explore all available options with regards to housing Hurricane Maria survivors."
 

 

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