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A serious lag in the use of virus funds

The government of Puerto Rico must urgently establish mechanisms that will allow the rapid disbursement of substantial federal allocations approved months ago to locally address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

28 de agosto de 2020 - 2:08 PM

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Esta historia fue publicada hace más de 4 años.
Editorial El Nuevo Día. (GFR Media)

The government of Puerto Rico must urgently establish mechanisms that will allow the rapid disbursement of substantial federal allocations approved months ago to locally address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this effort, it is necessary to reorganize processes seeking to achieve quick responses that ensure that different needs resulting from the emergency are effectively addressed. This government transformation cannot be postponed. And it can help solve recurring deficiencies and vulnerabilities that worsen during emergencies, such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

It is unacceptable that funds intended to avoid a further collapse in important sectors of the economy, as well as packages to protect health services and the education system, have not been disbursed, despite clear needs seen throughout the island due to the COVID-19 emergency.

The Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority acknowledged that only 37 percent of the $2.24 billion in funds approved for Puerto Rico through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has been used. Washington Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González, warned that the island may lose the funds approved if they are not distributed in the short term.

The delay in disbursing COVID-19 funds is the latest example of the Puerto Rican government’s failure to establish efficient processes to manage disaster relief funds approved for the island.

Similar lags still affect recovery efforts from the damage caused by the 2017 hurricanes and the earthquakes that hit the island last January. A major factor hindering the disbursement of these crucial federal appropriations involves fractured processes in agencies lacking personnel with the expertise necessary to understand, process, and comply with U.S. government requirements, including procedures specified as part of the responsible use of public funds.

These untenable circumstances further worsen the stressful situation already impacting the poorest sectors and workers that have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic. They also contribute to uncertainty in key areas of the economy that are struggling to keep operating without government support for which the funds were intended.

In May, the U.S. Treasury set the guidelines to disburse millions of dollars approved through the CARES act. There is no room for justifications that only contribute to this delay in the management of public resources. The island needs action to comply with the requirements so the funds reach those in need, as well as hospitals and key businesses to avoid a further downturn in the economy.

These obstacles reflect inefficient leadership in specific areas of state agencies. Their heads are called upon to swiftly implement the processes that will prevent the loss of essential aid to promptly fight the pandemic. An efficient system that, in the long term, should solve the constant delay in the productive management of federal programs that can contribute to the socio-economic recovery of the island.

If necessary, the private sector and community organizations with experience in handling federal processes and emergency-related matters could offer assistance. Requirements should be addressed while identifying bonafide companies that comply with federal regulations for urgent work and specific initiatives that cannot be delayed in critical situations.  

It is time to ensure that agencies managing CARES and other coronavirus relief funds have the resources with the skills and experience necessary to manage federal allocations to implement actions and achieve results that will result in citizen peace of mind. These are wise steps amid the COVID-19 pandemic challenge in Puerto Rico.

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