Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González (GFR Media)

Washington - Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González predicts that by the end of June, the U.S. Department of Housing (HUD) will release $8.22 billion for Puerto Rico disaster recovery plan that was approved in February.

“I think we are close,” said González after a meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson and several of his assistants on Tuesday.

HUD Acting Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery plans to visit the island next week to hold meetings related to the process of delivery of funds from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR), said González.

Between funds approved in Congress and those separated by the executive branch, the federal government allocated to the island nearly $20.24 billion in CDBG-DR funds to mitigate the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María, which left over $100 billion in damage and about 2,995 deaths.

$1.507 billion through the CDBG-DR package are already available, however, until this week, only $236 million have been released -through the line of credit the Treasury Department set to request the funds- Commissioner González noted.

The next allocation is that of the nearly  $8.221 billion that HUD approved on February 28.

According to the plan authorized by HUD, the government of Puerto Rico intends to use a good part of these funds for housing ($2.85 billion), multisectoral development projects and community revitalization ($1.9 billion), economic development ($1.375 billion) and other infrastructure projects ($1.3 billion).

Financial Controls

When Secretary Carson approved the $ 8.221 billion recovery plan, he warned that they will impose strict financial controls since “Puerto Rico has a history of fiscal malfeasance.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed a bill that requires HUD to publish rules for disbursal of the $8.226 in CDBG-DR funds for Puerto Rico within 90 days of enactment.

However, in order to release these funds, the government of Puerto Rico should reach an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the estimated costs for permanent public infrastructure reconstruction works, according to Section 428 of the Stafford Act.

So far, that final estimate will not be ready until at least October 11.

The fourth disbursal of previously allocated CDBG-DR funds should be the $ 1.932 billion that Congress set aside for efforts aimed at rebuilding the island's power grid. The process regarding those funds has not even started.

The new disaster aid bill signed Thursday by President Trump includes another $ 304 million in CDBG-DR funds, which Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares intends to use to match FEMA funded infrastructure projects.

The bill also includes $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico.

Another section of the legislation will compel FEMA to rebuild public critical facilities in a more resilient fashion, even if that means repairing conditions prior to the passage of the hurricane.

Permanent works

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman, Democrat Nita Lowey (New York), estimates that this language will represent another $500 million to Puerto Rico once FEMA agrees on the cost of permanent works that will be funded through section 428 of the Stafford Act.

The nearly $20.24 billion package is a large part of the approximately  $49 billion that the federal government has allocated to mitigate the emergency caused by Hurricane María, and to Puerto Rico's recovery and reconstruction process.

However, the release of funds reaches less than $20 billion and probably only about $250 million have been directed to reconstruction projects.

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