Nearly five months after the hurricane pummeled the US territory, 3,895 families are still being put up in hotel rooms paid for by FEMA's Transitional Shelter Assistance program
. The Puerto Ricans took temporary shelter after the storm destroyed or seriously damaged thousands of homes and left much of the island without power and drinking water.
"We live in limbo," said Milagros Bosse, a 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran who has been staying at a New York hotel with her four young children since December.
"We stress out every single day."
Most stays have been extended through March 20, but about 200 families recently learned that FEMA was to stop paying for their rooms on Wednesday. It's unclear what's happening to those families, and the agency declined to comment on specific cases.
FEMA spokesman Daniel P. Llargués said the program is supposed to be a bridge to longer term housing and that some households were denied extensions after the agency determined their homes on the island were habitable.
Llargués said the agency was reviewing a request from Puerto Rico's government to extend its "direct lease" program -- which provides temporary housing in apartments or multifamily homes directly to survivors -- to displaced families on the mainland.
The Transitional Shelter Assistance program could be extended beyond March at the request of the island's government, Llargués said
In addition to 873 households staying at hotels on the island, FEMA said it is paying for the stays of 1,488 families in Florida, 600 in Massachusetts, 243 in New York, 167 in Connecticut and 177 in Pennsylvania.
Llargués said the overall numbers are fluid and change rapidly, with survivors moving in and out of the program on a daily basis.
The eligibility for transitional housing is re-evaluated every 30 days. But some families said they have enrolled their children in schools and now face an uncertain future on the US mainland.
Bosse said her children are doing well in school but said a school psychologist told her that her 9-year-old daughter, Taina, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety as a result of the September storm.
Bosse said she is waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to assign her a caseworker so she can apply for a housing program for homeless veterans. She has been looking for work.
"We're grateful to have been put up in a hotel, but now it seems like we're forgotten," she said. "I don't want to have to keep on moving the children. I don't want to keep on traumatizing them."