Evacuees granted extention of support

May 9, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

The evacuees assembled at the Western Massachusetts offices of both senators on May 3 with an envelope full of letters detailing their plight.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs.

SPRINGFIELD – The evacuee families that had hoped to meet with representatives of both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey have at least been granted an extension of their FEMA and Red Cross support.

Tara Parrish of the Pioneer Valley Project told Reminder Publications, “All families receiving assistance from FEMA have been extended to June 30. All families receiving assistance from the Red Cross have been extended to May 23, with the potential to be extended to June 30. FEMA has said that June 30 is the final deadline.”

The families in question are evacuees from Puerto Rico who have been displaced by the hurricanes from eight months ago. Many of them gathered at the Western Massachusetts offices of both senators on May 3 with an envelope full of letters detailing their plight. They said they have been housed in hotels since arriving here and without help to find permanent housing they cannot start their lives again.

There was no one to accept the documents from Markey’s office and the representative from Warren’s office would not take the letters. According to the Pioneer Valley Project, “The families who came to 1550 Main Street on April 19 won a meeting with top staff from both Senate offices the following day and Senate staffers met with individual families over several hours on April 20 to hear about their cases.  The same day, FEMA announced blanket extensions for all displaced Maria families through May 14.  Red Cross followed FEMA’s announcement with an extension to May 23.  The families were also promised by Sen. Markey’s state director, Jim Cantwell that both Senate offices would return to Springfield the following week to discuss long-term housing solutions.  That meeting was never scheduled.”  

One evacuee, Jose Rivera, said that in his case, he cannot go back to Puerto Rico as the apartment in which he and his wife lived has been destroyed. His wife has medical conditions that require a personal care attendant. He has been seeking work, but without a permanent residence that has not been easy. He needs a permanent residence in order to get the medical help his wife needs.

Rivera said the evacuees want a face-to-face with the senators. “Tell us what you’re going to do with us,” he declared.

In a press statement from the Pioneer Valley Project, their situation is explained, “Without permanent housing, many of the adults in the families are unable to get a driver’s license and access sufficient employment.  Housing remains the most significant barrier to self-sufficiency for these families.  In the meantime, the Comfort Inn, which is housing several families, charges $123.70 per night per room, costing FEMA or the Red Cross over $3,800 a month. This means that for a family who has been in the hotel for five months, these agencies have spent over $19,000 without any plan for stable permanent housing.  The families have been trying to sit down with the two senators personally to share their experiences and work together toward solutions for a month.”

Carrying signs in both English and Spanish, the evacuees emphasized all they want is the ability to get a job here.

One sign read, “We are Americans,” while another read, “We have been forgotten.”

City Councilor Adam Gomez was at the protest and said, “It’s been eight months since they have been displaced. They are American citizens and many have left everything in their homes.”

He added he believes, “the federal government has been failing them.”

Gomez said there is not only a housing crisis for the evacuees but also for many people in Springfield who “couch surf” due to a lack of affordable housing units.

Rivera warned that the many Latino voters in the state would remember how the senators treated the evacuees. “They know what’s happening and they’re thinking about it,” he said.

Reminder Publications asked the offices of Markey and Warren for comment. Neither had returned a call by press time.

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