Advocates Push Puerto Rico Governor to Request Greater FEMA Assistance Amid Latest Earthquakes

NLIHC and disaster recovery advocates sent a letter to Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced asking her to request that FEMA reopen and expand its Individual Assistance (IA) application process and assist survivors in applying amid large tremors felt on the island in early July. The letter was sent by the Puerto Rico Working Group of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition which includes more than 850 national, state, and local organizations, including many organizations working directly with disaster impacted communities. The groups warn that the failure to assist earthquake survivors, including low income households, will further harm the island amid the economic and public health effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since a powerful group of earthquakes in January, Puerto Rico has experienced periodic aftershocks. On July 3, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake struck, damaging buildings across the island. Just days later, FEMA officially closed the application process for its Individual Assistance program and announced that all disaster recovery centers (DRCs) would close at the end of the month. The application process for FEMA assistance is complicated, requiring updated damage reports as well as title documentation or alternative “sworn statement” forms that FEMA does not provided to survivors. As a result, up to 70% of applicants for earthquake-related IA have been denied or disqualified.

To address high denial and disqualification rates, the letter urges the governor to ask that FEMA provide more time for disaster survivors and their representatives to work through the FEMA application process while also expanding the scope of the disaster recovery area to include areas hard-hit by the latest tremors. The letter also urges the governor to work with FEMA to provide copies of the alternative title documentation forms at DRCs, removing an additional step in the application process and assisting local non-profits that are strained community needs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the letter here: