Washington – While the White House evaluates a Major Disaster declaration requested by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set a $5 million cap to address to the new crisis triggered by this month's earthquakes in Puerto Rico, the office confirmed.
Under the Emergency Declaration that President Donald Trump signed last week, FEMA provides 75 percent funding for measures taken "to save lives, to protect property, public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe."
The other 25 percent is to be provided by the government of Puerto Rico.
According to a written statement, FEMA issued yesterday, the $5 million limit "is not a hard limit."
"In practice, the $5 million “cap” on an EM declaration limit is not a hard limit, and provides a requirement that FEMA notify Congress when an emergency goes above $5 million," the agency said.
FEMA adds that in order for the cap to be exceeded, "the President must determine that: continued emergency assistance is immediately required; there is a continuing and immediate risk to lives, property, public health or safety; and necessary assistance will not otherwise be provided on a timely basis."
The federal agency also indicated that whenever that limit is exceeded, the President has to submit a report to Congress "on the nature and extent of emergency assistance requirements."
Once President Trump declares Puerto Rico or some of its municipalities a disaster area, FEMA could then offer individual assistance, such as temporary housing, and process reimbursements to local governments for emergency expenses over the last few days.
Under the Emergency Declaration that Trump signed last week, FEMA now has the authority to "identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment, and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency," protect lives and public safety in general.
When Governor Vázquez submitted her request for a Major Disaster declaration Saturday - which was being evaluated by the White House yesterday - she said that the preliminary damage estimates were at $110 million. However, mayors of southern municipalities point to figures that raise that estimate to some $460 million.
As part of the federal government's response to the disaster caused by Hurricane María - with damage estimated at $90 billion - FEMA has distributed over $2.4 billion in funds from its individual assistance program.
Along with Trump's initial declaration last week, which has allowed FEMA to intervene, the U.S. Department of Health also declared a health emergency in Puerto Rico.
The federal government´s slow and inefficient response includes a $49 billion allocation to mitigate the disaster caused by Hurricane María.