• Puerto Rican evacuees: What's next if FEMA cuts off aid?

    By: Nancy Alvarez

    Updated:

    LOIZA, Puerto Rico - This Disaster Recovery Center in Loiza, Puerto Rico, is one of 56 centers across the island, and almost five months after Hurricane Maria, it's still busy.

    The man in charge of coordinating Federal Emergency Management Agency's aid on the island said the agency is scaling back the distribution of food and water.

    “We are adjusting the assistance to the actual needs of the community,” said Justo Hernandez, FEMA’s deputy federal coordinating officer.

    Read: School counselors help Puerto Rican students adjust to new life

    According to Hernandez, 89 percent of grocery stores on the island are back in business, more banks have reopened and benefits are starting to reach low-income families. 

    He said getting people back in stores is an essential part of the island's slow economic recovery, but it does not mean families who are still struggling will be cut off.

    Read: Puerto Rico fears post-Maria murder surge: 11 days, 32 slain

    “We're not looking at blanketing out with food and water.

    We want to hit the areas that need the help,” said Hernandez.

    That includes the 4,000 people who evacuated to hotels across Florida, including people like Maria Baez.

    At a recent town hall meeting in Kissimmee, she said she cannot return to the public housing unit in San Juan where's she been raising her grandson, who has cerebral palsy.

    FEMA declared the building habitable, so now the clock is ticking on what Baez will do next.

    FEMA has a range of programs available for families whose emergency benefits run out, but Hernandez said that's only half the equation.

    “We can give you all the help we can, but there is a responsibility of you, as a survivor, to decide what your future is,” he said. “My message as a Puerto Rican: I see the future. I see what we're doing, and what we're doing is really, really solid.”

    He said the agency is planning to be on the island for the next five to 10 years.

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