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CNE reviews Puerto Rico’s reconstruction and recovery process ahead of hurricane season

The Center for a New Economy (CNE) published a policy brief on the resources assigned to Puerto Rico by the federal government for reconstruction and recovery after Hurricane María, up to March 31, 2021 and called for a wider discussion of how these funds will be used.

“Obligating and spending the federal funding assigned for Puerto Rico’s reconstruction and recovery is only one part of that process. The sequence of events we call Hurricane Maria, and their consequences, have their roots in multiple decisions that were made decades ago,” according to the analysis.

“In the end, then, the shape of Puerto Rico after Hurricane María will depend to a large extent on how we address long-standing issues of class, race, segregation, poverty, inequality, and political power that we have ignored for far too long,” the think-tank noted.

The analysis answers questions such as: How is the reconstruction process going almost 4 years after Hurricane Maria? How much of the money allocated by Congress has been spent so far? How have FEMA’s alternative processes under Section 428 of the Stafford Act worked? Why has the disbursement of CDBG-DR funds been so slow? What criteria should we consider when determining where and how these funds are spent?

Sergio M. Marxuach, CNE’s Policy Director, and editor of the publication, said the damage caused by the hurricane cannot be attributed exclusively to the meteorological event. Puerto Rico already had deficiencies that made us more vulnerable during natural disasters, such as the electrical system.

Marxuach breaks down the federal post-disaster funds as of March 31, 2021. Funds have been allocated to 17 agencies for recovery operations. The allocated funds total $62.8 billion, the obligated amount is $42.6 billion, and the disbursed total is $18.2 billion. So, 44 months after Hurricane Maria, only 29% of the funds allocated by Congress have been spent.

In addition, the reasons for the slow disbursement of funds for permanent work and public assistance projects are discussed. This slow disbursement is attributed in part to the decision made by FEMA and the government of Puerto Rico to use an alternative process for their approval and disbursement.

The process under Section 428 of the Stafford Act was not as well outlined as originally thought and it has turned out to be highly bureaucratic. The period to reach agreements on cost estimates for these projects has been extended several times, the most recent until December 31, 2021.

Marxuach explains how CDBG-DR funds are disbursed, the total amounts in different categories and provides details on the amount of time that each has taken or the stage of the process they are in.

Finally, he emphasized that it is unacceptable that there has been absolutely no action with respect to the $1.9 billion specifically allocated by Congress to modernize and rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical system.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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