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Coalition blasts local, federal gov’t agencies for lag in disbursements

The Coalición Civil María 2017, comprising 41 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities, 4,500 churches and the Puerto Rico Police Members Association, demanded at a news conference to be “heard so that this long wait can be put to an end in the reconstruction of the structures damaged by Hurricane María.”

Led by José J. Taboada-De Jesús, president of the Puerto Rico Police Members Association, the group stated that despite “hundreds of efforts in the last two years to try to rebuild the facilities of the organizations affected by hurricanes Irma and María, aggravated by the earthquake of January 7, 2020, and impacted by the worst pandemic of the century, COVID-19, the reality is that there has been very little progress.”

“The inequality and conflicts that exist between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) have been and continue to be a serious obstacle to the development of the rebuilding or reconstruction program, which has billions of dollars allocated,” he said.

“The federal government’s reaction didn’t have the urgency and organization expected from the government in Washington; there were good things and less good things,” he said. “The municipalities of Puerto Rico have gotten promises of economic aid, but these were conditional on there being cash on hand to pay for repairs, the reconstruction of buildings, roads and facilities, along with the construction of new structures to replace the totally destroyed facilities.”

The coalition’s statement came in response to a COR3 news conference where the office’s executive director, Manuel Laboy, reported an increase in reconstruction project development, with in reimbursements and advances to subrecipients reaching “unprecedented numbers,” or around $2 billion for various natural disasters.

“Subrecipients are currently working on 8,102 projects with a total cost of $7.9 billion, ranging from design to construction phases. Additionally, 2,367 permanent projects have been completed and $1.7 billion has been disbursed between January and December 2023,” Laboy said.

The coalition argues that mayors and municipal governments have struggled with FEMA and COR3 to access funds due to initial requirements for municipalities to pay for reconstruction upfront and then seek reimbursement.

“This was a crazy, meaningless, and discriminatory directive since none of the 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico had or has so many millions of dollars in cash available to pay for the reconstruction works and then request reimbursement for them. In addition, the municipalities are required to have 10% of the assigned money in cash, which must be used to match what is assigned,” said Taboada-De Jesús.

The group went on to list FEMA’s obligations, which “COR3 has controlled with its improper interference.”

Public Assistance from FEMA to mitigate the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico:

  • Total dollars obligated — $31.6 billion
    • Funds for debris removal — $723 million
    • Funds for emergency protection measures — $4.7 billion
    • Permanent work and administrative expenses — $26.2 billion

    • Obligated Funds per week $835.7 million/21 obligated projects (Dec. 1-7, 2023)

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
$283 million obligated (as of Dec. 11, 2023)

HUD Community Development Block Grant Program
$20 billion approved

Reconstruction and permanent work on the power grid
$9.4 billion obligated

FEMA Individual Assistance:
More than $1.5 billion approved — Supplies in storage for Puerto Rico

The coalition emphasized that with time passing and resources unused, the obligated money from FEMA and other federal agencies is at risk.

“The actuarial data, the experiences and the existing reality lead us to request that a period of one full year be extended to the entire island to review and correct all damage and DDD [Damage Description and Dimensions] inventories that contain errors, and that these organizations be allowed to increase the Management Cost to hire consultants, as provided by law and as permitted by the regulations that apply and require FEMA to comply so that applicants [claimants] can advance and update all processes,” Taboada-De Jesús said.

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

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