U.S. judge to hold hearing over Puerto Ricans facing eviction

BOSTON (Reuters) – A court hearing is set for Monday after a federal judge issued an order temporarily blocking the eviction of hundreds of Puerto Ricans who fled the hurricane-ravaged island last year and have since been staying in hotels and motels across the nation.

The last benefits of a federal aid program for Hurricane Maria evacuees from the island were to run out on Sunday morning, cutting off housing assistance for the group residing in U.S. mainland motels.

But U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin in Boston on Saturday entered a temporary restraining order that required the U.S. government to extend the aid for hotel vouchers to at least check-out time on Wednesday.

The judge said that ending the voucher program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency could irreparably harm the hurricane survivors as many would become homeless since their homes in Puerto Rico were rendered uninhabitable.

The case has been transferred to U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman in Worcester, Massachusetts, who is expected to hear further arguments during Monday’s hearing, scheduled for 12:45 p.m. EDT.

Hurricane Maria dealt a vicious blow to an already struggling island that has been in recession for more than a decade, with a poverty rate near 50 percent.

FEMA has said 1,722 families are currently receiving aid under its housing program, 585 of whom reside in Central Florida motels. Several of the evacuees pursuing the lawsuit before Hillman are currently in Massachusetts.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler)