TAMPA, Fla. — Bay Area families forced to evacuate Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria are breathing a sigh of relief on Thursday. Federal housing assistance has been extended for the final time.
Their every belonging is stuffed in suitcases and plastic bags. By the edge of a hotel mattress a family of four sits to do homework. This is their new normal eight months since Hurricane Maria hit.
"It was kind of difficult. It was like a movie, horrible," said Carmen Melendez.
Her reality is that — without FEMA's hotel voucher program, the same one paying for a hotel room for her husband and two kids — there's no other place they can go.
"We're going to be in the streets. With my kids and I don't want that for them," she said.
But Thursday, 600 families in Florida got good news. The program putting a roof over their head has been extended until June 30. The fourth and final time.This means her children can keep doing homework.
"They can finish school, I don't have to remove them for school. They can finish so this gives me opportunity... to keep looking forward," she said.
Keep looking forward to a new life in the Bay. Despite the fact FEMA will also pay for airfare to return to the island conditions are still so bad, she doesn't want to go back. Here she's got a job and now hopes she can buy a house. But the problem?
"I don't know really about the home," she said. "Because what I'm seeing right now, it's not enough time."
It's a short-term solution. A band-aid but one she's nonetheless grateful for. Because every day of help means another day she can return the favor. Even if its just homework.