While the government estimated in $ 94.4 billion the federal assistance needed for the reconstruction of the island (horizontal-x3)
While the government estimated in $ 94.4 billion the federal assistance needed for the reconstruction of the island. (GFR Media)

Washington – The government of Puerto Rico expects that, by the end of the month - when Puerto Rican fiscal year also ends - federal disbursements intended to mitigate the disaster caused by Hurricane Maria would have reach almost $ 6 billion, as estimated in the fiscal plan.

But, the authorities of the island warn it will not be until October 2019 that they will have a final figure of the funds that would have been needed to direct the reconstruction of the island, a process that last November was estimated at $ 94,4 billion.

No later than August 8, the government of Puerto Rico - as part of the restrictions imposed to access federal assistance funds - must submit a 12 to 24 months recovery plan to Congress, a document which will include an update of the amount of reconstruction costs.

Omar Marrero, executive director of the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office (CRRO), stated that the Puerto Rican government has until October 2019 to "do all the damage assessments under section 428" of the Stafford Act, which regulates permanent improvements to public facilities.

An analysis by El Nuevo Día estimated that until early June, the federal government promised to allocate about $ 31,6 billion in funds for Puerto Rico to mitigate the devastation caused by Hurricane María. However, back then, the funds disbursed to the island's governments - central and municipal - and victims were only about $ 3.2 billion.

The Oversight Board -in charge of the island's public finances-  estimated that this fiscal year, which concludes on Saturday, Puerto Rico should have received $ 5.965 billion in federal assistance funds related to the hurricane. The Board´s projections indicated that about $ 4,938 billion would be federal funds, with a small contribution from the Puerto Rican government. The other $ 1,027 billion would come from FEMA assistance to families and individuals.

"We have the data that (about $ 6 billion) have been disbursed by FEMA," said Marrero.

CGI Technologies was granted a contract to develop and manage a "transparency" portal to inform the total funds allocated to the government, which are received and used to reconstruct Puerto Rico. But Marrero said that the process was delayed due to the contract approval process of the Board.

"We expect to have something by the end of July," said Marrero.

While the government estimated in $ 94.4 billion the federal assistance needed for the reconstruction of the island, the Board´s certified fiscal plan estimated the damage in $ 80 billion and the federal allocations the island can receive, including FEMA funds, in $62 billion. "There are people from FEMA who are already saying that the damage was more than $ 100 billion," said Marrero, in an interview with El Nuevo Día over the weekend referring to informal conversations they had with federal officials.

However, those procedures required to begin executing permanent works under section 428 of the Stafford Act, which will regulate most of federal assistance funds use, have not yet been completed.

Out of the nearly $ 31,6 billion promised, $ 20 billion are funds from the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The first CDBG $ 1,5 billion may be released in August. But the rest of the $ 18,438 billion ($ 10,153 billion separated by Congress and $ 8,285 billion allocated administratively) may not start arriving until January 2019, said Marrero.

A few days ago, Pam Patenaude, HUD Deputy Secretary said in San Juan that $ 18,438 billion funds will be divided into independent processes of about $ 12 billion and $ 6 billion. As Patenaude said then, the nearly $ 2 billion of CDBG that must be used for power grid improvements would come out of the second package of about $ 6 billion.

Marrero said that he is still waiting for the HUD official notice regarding the use of these funds, but that "being optimistic, we should start to see the $ 18.5 billion dollars flow, by January".

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