While Puerto Rico proportionally requested more assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 2017 hurricanes, it got significantly less than what the U.S. government granted Louisiana, Texas and Florida when they felt the brunt of earlier storms.
“Consistent with the lower socioeconomic status of its population, Puerto Rico proportionally requested more assistance from FEMA than these states affected by the hurricanes. On the island, after Hurricane María, 73 percent of the registrations reported food need, 95 percent lack of utilities,and 64 percent home damage,” according to a study released by local economic
research firm Econometrika Corp.
According to the study, although 2.7 percent of the inspected rental houses in Puerto Rico had “major damage” after María and other territories had lower percentages of housing damage under this category, FEMA approved the maximum grant to 19 renters in Texas, eight in Florida, 14,634 in Louisiana, 11,747 in New Orleans, and just one in Puerto Rico.
“Similarly, the federal agency approved maximum grants to 5,240 owners in Texas (1.2 percent of cases), and 3,364 in Puerto Rico (0.4 percent of cases). In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Louisiana, and New Orleans the percentages of grant approvals were more favorable than in Puerto Rico,” the study showed.
Louisiana was affected by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Texas by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, and one month later, Florida, Puerto Rico and the USVI were impacted by Hurricanes Irma and María.
Econometrika Corp. reviewed documents that showed that inhabitants 65 years or older are “very susceptible to natural events, and Puerto Rico had approximately 600,000 elderly in 2016.”
Also, five out of 10 people lived below the poverty level, 18 percent were unemployed, and 86 percent of all infrastructure on the island was built in 1999 or earlier.
“These data demonstrate that Puerto Rico had higher vulnerability than other U.S. territories impacted by the hurricanes,” it concluded.
In contrast with states such as Florida, Puerto Rican petitioners said their circumstances were highly severe. However, just 41 percent of Puerto Rican applications for assistance were eligible, while in Louisiana it was 68 percent, the firm noted.
“In the same way, the people in Louisiana ($7,129.36) and New Orleans ($10,389.29) received more money on average than Puerto Ricans after María ($2,608.28),” the study showed.
“Although the Stafford Act establishes that the purpose of any action should be to ‘save lives and prevent human suffering’ the disparities with respect to the states were evident,” the firm stated.
Additionally, the 34 percent of Puerto Rican valid registrations after María were eligible for Other Needs Assistance, but Texas and USVI had higher percentages than the island, at 35 percent and 38 percent, respectively. The average approved amount was greater for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina ($9,859.61) than Puerto Rico after María ($3,149.45), the study showed.
According to the federal law, FEMA can cover 75 percent of a project’s total cost, however, “the federal agency may recommend an increase up to 90 percent”. The cost share percentage in Louisiana was 99 percent, but in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma it was 80 percent. FEMA approved $3 billion to public assistance on the island, but in Louisiana approved $13.2 billion after Hurricane Katrina, the firm noted.
“Without a doubt, the material needs in Puerto Rico after hurricanes Irma and María was higher than other territories in the United States. However, the Small Business Administration approved $1.3 billion in loans in Puerto Rico, but in Texas and Louisiana the quantity was higher than the island, with $2.9 billion and $6.4 billion, respectively,” it added.