A federal judge ordered the federal government on Tuesday to continue providing housing assistance until later this month for hundreds of Puerto Ricans who evacuated after Hurricane Maria. The decision comes as the administration of Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) engaged in a public spat over whether or not Puerto Rico asked the agency for an extension on the evacuees’ stay.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman ruled Tuesday that a temporary restraining will remain in place until midnight on July 23, giving the evacuees until checkout time to leave on July 24. About 950 residents remain in hotels and other FEMA housing units.
The evacuees sued the government agency because they were going to get kicked out on July 1. FEMA had argued that the Puerto Rican government had not asked for an extension of the program and that Rosselló had agreed to the program’s expiration.
But Héctor M. Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary, said in a statement that FEMA’s claim was “not true.” He pointed to a letter from FEMA on May 3 in which the agency agreed to extend the program until June 30 and stated “this will be the final extension of the TSA program and no additional extensions will be considered.” FEMA did not respond Tuesday when asked for a response to Pesquera.
Hillman, the judge in the case, asked both parties for more information about the dispute in his ruling Tuesday.
“I find that further briefing on the issues would be helpful to the Court,” he wrote in his decision. “I would like the parties to address the implication of the refusal of the Governor of Puerto Rico to request an extension of the TSA program benefits.
The judge said he would issue a final order by July 23.
David Begnaud contributed to this report.
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