Ricardo Rosselló. (GFR Media) (semisquare-x3)
Ricardo Rosselló. (GFR Media)

Caguas - Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares warned that the 34-day partial government shutdown is affecting recovery and reconstruction initiatives for Puerto Rico, which are already suffering setbacks since the federal government lacks employees to make decisions and direct these initiatives. 

The governor pointed out that two FEMA directors in Puerto Rico Mike Byrne and Justo "Tito" Hernández were affected by the partial shutdown. FEMA is in charge of more than 56 percent of the reconstruction work.

At a press conference in Caguas, Rosselló explained that FEMA is disbursing some funds since some people are working but stressed that others like Mike Byrne and Tito Hernández have been affected by the shutdown and that  affects making decisions at higher levels what interrupts processes. 

FEMA spokesperson Delyris Aquino Santiago acknowledged that the agency is not operating properly due to the shutdown. However, she said that about 75 percent of FEMA personnel continue to support disaster operations during the shutdown.

She also said that these employees are receiving their paychecks since they are under the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) and that FEMA is disbursing DRF funds for FEMA´s Individual Assistance, Public Assistance and Mitigation programs in states and territories affected by recent disasters.

On the other hand, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has not been operating since December 22,  the day the government began partially shutting down 25 percent of its operation. Initiatives associated with the first reconstruction funds package through  the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR), which had not been approved by that date are delayed while those that were approved are being released regularly. 

Rosselló Nevares press conference took place at the foundation stone ceremony for a housing complex at the old residential José Gautier Benítez. This project was granted about $42 million from the first $1,5 billion in CDBG-DR funds allocated to Puerto Rico. 

The second reconstruction aid package, which action plan was to be evaluated on December 22 is delayed due to the partial shutdown. 

In an interview with El Nuevo Día, Rosselló Nevares acknowledged that this complicates programming reconstructions projects for 2019 and 2020. 

Although he does not deem it necessary, the governor said that, if delays continue, the situation could lead the Oversight Board to approve new amendments to the fiscal plan, with the complications it entails.

On a previous occasion, the entity overseeing the Puerto Rican finances amended the document to adjust projections due to changes in programming reconstruction funds. 

Yesterday, Rosselló announced that government-owned companies suchas the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA) will suspend water and electricity bills for federal employees affected by the partial shutdown. They have to present their federal employee identification number at the customer service offices of these public corporations. 

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