Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced received yesterday from HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery the second grant agreement for the disbursement of $8.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) funds that must be directed to address the damage caused by Hurricane María.
Montgomery said that last February, the government of Puerto Rico could access the $1.5 billion of the first agreement and added that through this second grant agreement, the island will be receiving the other $8.2 billion package. “This is an important moment for Puerto Rico and for all Americans who treasure this island," the federal official said in Spanish.
However, Montgomery did not specify when the Puerto Rican government will receive the rest of the funds Congress approved to help the island with its recovery process, which total $20.5 billion.
Upon leaving La Fortaleza after meeting with governor Vázquez Garced, Montgomery explained that releasing funds is a continuous process, the government receives a line of credit and as projects come in and they sign them, funds are released.
Vázquez Garced arrived yesterday afternoon at La Fortaleza along with Housing Secretary Luis Fernández, to announce that she received the signed agreement. "We are going to continue working very hard, very hard, so that money goes where people need it," she said.
On February 3, Vázquez Garced accepted and signed the grant agreement with new restrictions and controls on the government. New limitations on the use of CDBG-DR funds include that the Board overseeing the island´s public finances must now endorse the projects.
The document also requires the island's government to prove that it complies with goals regarding the property registry reform; to repeal Ricardo Rosselló Nevares' executive order increasing minimum wage to $ 15 an hour for workers in federally funded reconstruction projects, among other requirements.
Montgomery explained that those funds cannot be used for reconstruction efforts after the earthquakes that recently hit the island's southwestern region.
To questions from El Nuevo Día, Montgomery said the most relevant details of the agreement would be published on HUD's website.
The agreement comes along with the appointment of Rear Admiral Peter Brown as President Trump´s special representative for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico. The U.S. President also appointed attorney Robert Couch as Federal Financial Monitor.
Brown who also met yesterday with the governor at La Fortaleza did not comment on the meeting. It was La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Antonio Pabón who said the Federal Coordinator for Puerto Rico will not only have a role in recovery issues but also in the economic and social development of the island.
He anticipated that Brown will meet today with agency heads.
"What happens is that the government of Puerto Rico works as a single entity, and in the recovery and reconstruction process, and in the interest that both the President of the United States and the governor have in everything to move according to the plans agreed, well he wants to know where we are, where we are going, and what we need from the White House to achieve our goals," Pabón said when this newspaper asked why Brown would have influence in multiple agencies.