Puerto Rico’s chronic inability to fully tap into federal funding has short-changed the island out of millions in competitive grants and loans available for a cross-section of activities, a top government official said recently.
In fact, Puerto Rico is dead last among all of the 50 states and U.S. territories when it comes to applying for competitive grant money, said Carlos Rivas, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Management and Budget.
According to the most recent numbers, Puerto Rico received a mere $259 million in such contributions during calendar year 2010. This funding is included in the $23.5 billion total of federal funding the island received that year through regular transfers for agencies and programs such as housing, agriculture and transportation.
Rivas explained that if it were to move up just one notch in the ranking, the island could see a potential influx of $530 million additional dollars; moving up to the middle of the list would translate into an additional $1.6 billion; while getting in among the top-10 most-funded states would mean getting between $3.1 billion and $5.7 billion in new funding per year, Rivas said.
“This would mean getting recurring funds to flow into the economy, in competitive grants per capita. How does that affect the economy? Aside from financing programs, we could also fund projects and certain administrative expenses the government incurs,” he said.
“There is great potential in that for us, if we could move into a higher ranking by doing it as well as other states when it comes to competing for grants,” Rivas said.
To address that objective, the island’s government established the Federal Funds Management Office about a year ago and recently hired a stateside expert in competitive grants processes to go after the money, he said.
Merril Oliver, former head of Maryland’s Governor’s Grant Office — which in 2010 ranked 8th in terms of securing federal competitive grants, landing nearly $1.2 billion in funding for the state — has taken over the job of setting up the island for short- and long-term funding.
“This strategy has two phases – one is on the short-term to obtain grants and offset losses, and on the longer term, for infrastructure projects,” Rivas said.