At a time when the federal government insists on imposing strict fiscal controls on the management of emergency funds, the Wanda Vázquez Garced administration announced yesterday it has requested to extend the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for areas in Puerto Rico affected by recent earthquakes to include 10 additional municipalities.
The request for Adjuntas, Cabo Rojo, Corozal, Jayuya, Lajas, Lares, Maricao, San Germán, San Sebastián, and Villalba to also be declared as a major disaster area, the number of municipalities to be eligible for the individual assistance program in the federal major disaster declaration would reach 16.
The declaration issued last week covered Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco.
According to Vázquez Garced, after the earthquakes that struck the island, which severely affected municipalities in the southwestern area of the island, neighboring towns have also reported damage and earthquake-related expenses. “That is why we are requesting to include these municipalities in the major disaster declaration signed by the U.S. President," the governor said.
"The purpose is to provide them with the tools to respond to the situation we are facing and that directly affects our citizens," she added in a statement.
The request was addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Pete Gaynor, who can now decide to extend the disaster declaration, without necessarily requiring the White House participation.
Following the scandal over deficiencies in the distribution of aid to the victims of the earthquakes on the island, FEMA said yesterday that "given Puerto Rico’s significant history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement, the federal government will continue to impose stringent fiscal oversight and risk management measures" to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most while protecting U.S. funds.
"Given Puerto Rico’s significant history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement, the federal government will continue to impose stringent fiscal oversight and risk management measures to ensure all disaster relief funding and resources are expended in a manner that directly assists the disaster survivors who need them most while protecting the U.S. taxpayers’ investment against the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse," a FEMA spokesperson said.
FEMA's statements are in line with previous statements by the White House, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the federal Housing Department (HUD) every time an irregularity on the island emerges.
Over the weekend, citizens discovered an emergency warehouse in Ponce, owned by the government of Puerto Rico, with key supplies that had not been distributed to the victims of this month's earthquakes.
FEMA said it has so far committed $12.8 million to assist the island following the January 7 earthquake and the aftershocks that have hit southern municipalities. According to the federal office, they have provided the Puerto Rican government with 100 generators, 1.1 million liters of water, 20 tanker trucks, 5,000 cots, and nearly 163,000 meals to assist the victims.
"The continued federal investment is to ensure Puerto Rico is rebuilt in a manner that is both fiscally sound and resilient against the impacts of future disasters," a FEMA spokesperson added.