• Osceola County leaders to ask for extension of funding for Puerto Ricans in hotels

    By: Michael Lopardi


    OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Osceola County leaders plan to ask members of Congress for more help with housing Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria.

    A short-term program that paid for local hotel rooms is set to end on March 20.

    A Ramada hotel in Kissimmee has been home for 24-year-old Joynette Matos and her family since December, after Hurricane Maria damaged her apartment in Puerto Rico.

    “It's very important to me and everybody else,” he said. 

    But she may soon need a new place to live. The Federal Emergency Management Assistance program that pays for hotel rooms for disaster survivors is set to end on March 20.

    Matos is having trouble finding an apartment.

    “It has been really hard because they need background checks of everything and they need evidence of everything,” Matos said. 

    Osceola County commissioners now plan to send a letter to the Congressional delegation asking for help, possibly an extension of the program. 

    This week, Commissioner Viviana Janer said more than 400 families in the county will be impacted if the program ends in March, and Osceola County is already under a housing crunch.

    “I am extremely concerned because this county does not have the resources to take care of them,” said Janer. 

    On Thursday, a FEMA spokesman said the governor of Puerto Rico would have to request an extension, but has not done so yet. 

    Margarita Reyes works at the Ramada and passes along information to the families.

    “They're crying. They say they don't know where we're going to go. They're nervous,” said Reyes. 

    With Puerto Rico still recovering, Matos said she plans to stay in Central Florida, so one way or another, she'll eventually need a new place to live.

    Commissioner Fred Hawkins said that if the program were to end next month, the county would likely have to work with non-profits and community groups to find funding or other housing options.

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