The Corporation for National and Community Service Office of Inspector General (CNCS-OIG) started an audit and is overseeing federal funds allocated through the AmeriCorps program. (Juan Luis Martínez Pérez)

Corruption allegations and repeated administrative changes in Puerto Rico's public agencies this year prompted a federal investigation into funds allocated to nonprofit organizations, which have been delayed for several months.

Although there is no suspicion of misappropriation of funds, the Corporation for National and Community Service Office of Inspector General (CNCS-OIG) started an audit and is overseeing federal funds allocated through the AmeriCorps program and which the government of Puerto Rico to distributes to nonprofit organizations.

"Given government corruption problems, (U.S. agencies) are watching all federal funds, and the AmeriCorps people, in particular, have become stricter and carefully overseeing. They are auditing everything," said Doris Báez, president of the Puerto Rico Volunteer and Community Service Commission.

"I can also tell you that they are worried about changes in government and all the funds," she added. "The resignation of Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado raised the level of concern in federal agencies."

Báez confirmed that since federal funds were not released, by April they had a debt of more than $600,000, because these entities have provisionally financed operations to avoid the interruption of services and laying off hundreds of employees, but they have warned that they don´t have the budget to sustain this scenario much longer.

According to Báez, they have not faced allegations of misuse of AmeriCorps funds, rather, the problem has been for agencies to administratively address the new requirements imposed by the federal government given concerns of government corruption in Puerto Rico.

"There is no concern that funds may have been diverted, as they had not arrived (at the Treasury). They work based on requests for reimbursements," Báez said.

She added that "in April, there was another request for funds (for reimbursements) which was stopped because the federal government understood that there were some things that didn't make sense... It took time to reach the conclusion that we weren't understanding each other."

She said that, between November 2018 and April 2019, "everyone was assuming it was 'business as usual' but, in fact, there were new requirements... It was an administrative obstacle."

She assured that, after a meeting with former Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, Treasury staff began to handle the proceedings, but everything was put on hold again with Maldonado's ousting from that agency.

The day Maldonado was ousted by Rosselló Nevares after denouncing an alleged "institutional mafia" in that agency, hundreds of nonprofit organizations representatives were waiting in the Treasury to meet with the former secretary.

"Suddenly, someone went in there and said the meeting had just been canceled and they had to leave. They were escorted out," she said.

She mentioned that the change of administration included changes in staff and led to "start all over and talk to lower-ranking officials."

El Nuevo Día requested La Fortaleza information on the issue but received no response.

Báez sent a letter to Rosselló Nevares in late June to urge his intervention and resolve the situation. She said that after the letter was published in the media, the government gave signs that it would take the case again.

However, anticipating that it will take time for the Treasury to dispel CNCS  doubts, Báez proposed creating a special fund to pay the entities with state funds and then return them with federal reimbursements but she has not received an answer to that proposal.

"The commission complied, but when the commission work ends,  state agencies come in to make the correct processes. It is their role so that payments can be released," Báez said.

She said that "in that chain, there were some problems with changes of officials... There have been changes since January."

"I understand the explanations, but they are not enough for me because, while the problem continues, organizations have lost, and that is not acceptable for me," said the commission president.

Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokeswoman for the CNCS, said in written statements to El Nuevo Día that the federal agency has been providing technical assistance to help the Puerto Rico commission resolve issues that have impacted its ability to access funds.

"It is important that they can continue their critical work," she said.


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