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Sembrando Sentido launches new initiative to track federal funding in Puerto Rico

Sembrando Sentido, an advocate for public participation and transparency in Puerto Rico, announced the development of a Federal Funding and Impact Tracker.

The tool is intended to help communities understand where federal funding is directed, its achievements and where changes are needed.

The announcement took place at the 2024 Census Open Innovative Labs Summit. It marks “substantial progress” in tracking federal funds and setting a vision for transparency and participation, fostering a just, environmentally sustainable, and equitable recovery, organization officials said.

“Positioned on the front lines of climate catastrophe, Puerto Rico needs to foster strategic public investments to secure a robust and sustainable reconstruction that prioritizes at-risk communities,” Sembrando Sentido said in a statement.

Six years after hurricanes Irma and Maria’s catastrophic impact, and despite more than $127 billion in federal funding, monitoring recovery efforts and identifying ongoing needs remains challenging, the organization stated.

As the climate crisis intensifies, federal funding for climate adaptation and recovery is expected to increase. Accordingly, better stewardship guardrails must be established.

The Federal Funding and Impact Tracker is designed to increase visibility around local social, economic and environmental conditions and needs. It aims to shape and inform program design, planning and execution processes, and address capacity gaps within local and state governments by promoting an inclusive, community-driven approach to Puerto Rico’s recovery.

The initiative also aspires to set a national standard for transparent and equitable funds distribution. It is led in collaboration with PolicyLink and supported by multiyear financial contributions and other resources from Magic Cabinet and 1.5 Climate Strategies Group.

“While we have identified hundreds of portals with relevant funding information, the data is not interconnected, often incomplete and presented in formats that are both hard to access and comprehend,” said Issel Masses, executive director of Sembrando Sentido.

“This hinders our ability to extract meaningful insights that can help inform policy changes. Without addressing these challenges and fostering cross-sector collaborations to resolve them, while simultaneously enhancing data capacity, our ability to effectively ‘follow the money’ and ensure equitable outcomes will only deteriorate,” she added.

In collaboration with PolicyLink, the U.S. Census Bureau and other partners facilitated through The Opportunity Project (TOP), Sembrando Sentido has made progress in assessing available data, identifying existing limitations and gaps, and developed a collaborative road map for an accessible tracking tool.

Sembrando Sentido’s work began focused on strengthening public contracting practices in Puerto Rico, as it represents more than 50% of the government’s budget and is one of the areas with the highest risk of corruption, thus presenting significant opportunities for savings and improvements in reconstruction and service delivery.

The organization’s efforts range from conducting the first comprehensive evaluation of public contracting in Puerto Rico, increasing contracting transparency by 350% through the development of an open contracting and red flags platform, to evaluating contracting processes with Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds. Its work promotes more inclusive, equitable contracting practices, effective public financial management, and anti-corruption and open government reform.

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

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