Washington - Following Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced's meetings in the U.S. capital, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirmed last night that it will again grant the government of Puerto Rico authority to validate the disbursements requested by local agencies and municipalities.
Controls were imposed following the crisis that led to Rosselló Nevares´ resignation in July.
The decision was announced during between Vázquez Garced and FEMA Deputy Administrator Peter Gaynor and the agency´s Associate Administrator Jeff Byard, along with her team and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.
"We demonstrated that Puerto Rico is stable, that we can carry out processes in a reliable and transparent way, so the complex procedure to access funds for Puerto Rico was left without effect," the governor said.
Meanwhile, González confirmed that "process 270," -as this restrictive procedure is usually known- was cleared.
A FEMA spokesman corroborated the decision last night and said they will issue a formal notification announcing the date the decision becomes effective.
One day after Rosselló Nevares announced his resignation amid mass protests, FEMA took away the authority of the Puerto Rican government to handle - with fewer controls - the reimbursement process for municipalities and agencies for the measures taken to deal with Hurricanes Irma and María.
"Given the ongoing leadership changes within the Puerto Rican government, combined with continued concern over Puerto Rico’s history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement, FEMA decided it is prudent to take additional steps to protect its share of the federal investment by reinstating the manual drawdown process," FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow said July 25.
Since then, the Puerto Rican government had to use again the "manual" drawdown process, which requires the government to submit its application to FEMA, along with documents that demonstrate eligibility, availability, reasonable costs, in line with federal procurement rules.
Vázquez Garced, however, said she would not bring before FEMA a new request to extend the October 11 deadline to certify the nearly 9,000 reconstruction projects through permanent works.
The request to extend the deadline to get most the cost of the work authorized will be made on a project by project basis said the governor after meeting with Republican Senator Rick Scott (Florida).
The governor, her team, and Resident Commissioner also had important meetings to discuss Medicaid and other issues with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer.
In addition to the meeting with Pelosi, Richard Neal (Massachusetts) chairman of the Ways and Means Committee would have joined the meeting with Pelosi. Neal is in charge of the project that would allow the federal government to boost EITC and CTC in Puerto Rico. That legislation could have an impact of $1.2 billion annually on the island.
The future of a House bipartisan bill that would allocate $12 billion in Medicaid funds to the island over the next five years is in the hands of the Senate Republican majority. However, it would have more controls than those already approved in the committee.
Vázquez Garced took Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez to meetings with Scott and Republican House Energy and Greg Walden (Oregon) from the Commerce Committee), who voted in favor of the Medicaid bill that seeks to prevent a $1.2 billion fiscal cliff in the island's health care system by April 2020.
Scott "is focused on finding a solution," spokeswoman Alexandra Ojeda said.
Democrat Rep. Darren Soto (Florida) said the bill is now being discussed at the congressional leadership level and that Senate Republicans want to reduce the proportion of the federal contribution - FMAP – included in the legislation, which in the first two years would go from the current 55 percent to 83 percent.
The governor also met yesterday afternoon with the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who - like Republican Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) – said she was satisfied that Vázquez Garced decided to have a collaborative relationship with the Board overseeing the fiscal decisions of the island's elected government.
The governor also met with Democratic Congresswoman Stephannie Murphy (Florida).
Vázquez Garced, who says that despite having virtually the same cabinet as Rosselló Nevares, she has brought "a new style of governance," and wants to distance herself from the former governor.
In that sense, Wednesday night she affirmed that those members of Congress she had meetings with were "relieved and pleased with the new direction that the government has taken."
Although she received good news from FEMA yesterday, Vázquez Garced still faces challenges such as the decision of the federalHousing Department to impose a federal financial monitor to oversee the entire disbursements process of the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR), which represents about $20 billion and of which only about $1.5 billion has been made available.
In addition, hiring of a fiduciary agent - a kind of trustee - to oversee the use of some $600 million in federal funds in the Education Department, a process the governor would like to leave in the hands of the Board.