A few days after Hurricane María has passed three years, there are many challenges facing the government of the Island to achieve full recovery in the areas of housing, electricity, roads, aqueducts and sewers, but even so Wanda Vázquez insists that her year as governor has been key to streamline projects and improve relations with the United States government.
The first executive and some members of her cabinet addressed the country yesterday in an extensive televised press conference in which they chose to highlight a large number of numbers and projections that show that much remains to be done. In fact, no one dared to answer until when the recovery efforts on the island would be extended, for which the federal government has obligated $ 25.5 billion among funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), of the Development Program. Community Disaster Recovery (CDBR-DR) from the federal Department of Housing and the US Department of Health.
“The United States Congress reserved $ 49.9 billion for Puerto Rico and $ 25.5 billion of that money has been obligated, which means that they have a first and last name, but are not in our bank account. Of these, $ 16,600 million have been disbursed. Now, the FEMA program – of that number that I am giving of $ 25,500 million – has $ 17,700 million obligated and $ 13,800 million disbursed, ”summarized the executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), Ottmar Chávez, about the amount of federal money destined for the Island.
He explained that the figure of $ 49.9 billion is like a cap established by the federal Congress to assist the Island in the recovery and that it is at the discretion of FEMA to use the remainder. “They (FEMA) already said that 10,000 projects are eligible and we have reached agreements with 3,314, so there are 6,686 projects missing. We will see specific details soon, but there is a lot of money that will come out of the $ 20,000 million that remains or other money that FEMA has access to, ”said Chávez.
Officials presented the differences between the number of projects approved by the federal government during the first two years after María and those approved from September 2019 to September 13, but not with specific amounts of what remains to be done. In addition, they highlighted the fact that there is a large amount of money already available to the municipalities, but the mayors have not yet presented the projects or documentation necessary to start using the funds.
Praise and criticism of municipalities
However, they highlighted the efforts of the municipal governments of Ponce, Guayanilla, Coamo and Salinas to use the funds. Instead, they singled out San Juan because it has $ 21 million allocated and hasn’t signed any deals.
Likewise, the officials showed graphs from which it can be deduced that from September 2019 to September 13, 3,114 permanent projects had been approved, versus 306 projects agreed in the first years after María.
“Puerto Rico was devastated after Hurricane Maria and on top of that all the emergencies we have experienced. It is important that all amounts that have been approved are submitted. When we entered in August, there were 74 projects approved since Maria, today (yesterday) I tell the people that in one year we have approved 3,114 projects. That means that we can see it in numbers, but if $ 70 million for roads is approved, that will fix the roads that people need because they had not been approved before. ” expressed the governor.
“You are going to see how in the next few days all the municipalities are going to start these projects because right now they have $ 447 million in their coffers and what do the municipalities have to do for those 3,114 projects? Well, throw out the auctions so that the constructions begin to come out, ”he added.
Vázquez said that the delay in projects over the past years was due to the lack of good relations between the local government and federal agencies, the magnitude of the disaster and the lack of liquidity in some municipalities.
A tiny part of the projects endorsed in the last year are for permanent water control projects, rubble collection and public services. Even so, the governor and officials insisted on highlighting the positive rather than what remains to be done.
Meanwhile, Alex Amparo, FEMA coordinator in Puerto Rico, said that instead of talking about bureaucratic processes to access funds as some mayors have suggested, he prefers to talk about internal controls to safeguard the proper use of money.