Ponce - Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced said yesterday the Oversight Board put a stop to the use of the government's emergency fund by not reviewing more than 50 requests made by the Executive Branch to buy supplies and hire services for the victims of the January 7 earthquake.
Vázquez Garced explained that although the Board had authorized access to $260 million of the emergency fund, as of January 31 the entity must approve each disbursement. According to the governor, the Board has not acted swiftly in processing the requests and refused to temporarily extend access to this money without its approval.
She said this led her to instruct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to continue using the emergency fund, even if they do not have the Board´s approval.
"The Board has more than 50 requests from agencies and municipalities on hold. They have not approved the purchase of food," the governor said at a press conference in Ponce. "After January 31, every emergency request must be approved by the Board,” noted Vázquez Garced and added that if shelters need water, the Board must authorize that request.
The Board´s spokesman Edward Zayas denied the entity is holding disbursements and contrary to the governor's allegations he said the Board has only received four requests from the government, which have been addressed the same day they were submitted.
Zayas added the Board is only asking the government to file a document, which consists of eight questions so that they know what the money is going to be spent on before proceeding with a disbursement.
He said the funds were not stopped and that the period granted to use those funds without approval ended January 30. “So far, only four requests have been submitted and all four have been approved expeditiously," he noted. "The Board wants to make sure the money is used exclusively for earthquake recovery," Zayas explained.
The spokesman for the fiscal agency also denied that the government had asked to extend the period to use the emergency fund without authorization, as Vázquez Garced claimed.
OMB Director Iris E. Santos Díaz insisted that they have submitted requests to buy portable toilets, tents, and to rent buildings where they can temporarily receive students whose schools were damaged by the earthquakes that started in late December.
"I have several requests from (the Department of) Correction and Rehabilitation, (the Department of) Family Affairs, and the Emergency Management Bureau, still pending," Santos Díaz said.
The official indicated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse a good part of these expenses.
"Our intention, and need, is to use the emergency fund for these preliminary expenses. Once it´s completed and they define what the disaster declaration will cover for these municipalities, we can ask for a 75 percent reimbursement. Right now, we need to be able to use the emergency fund," Santos Díaz said.
"This emergency is not over. The earth is still shaking. The earthquakes will continue as the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) reported, they said they could last for years... The southern and southwestern areas are still in emergency," said Vázquez Garced, who did not answer questions because she had to fly back to Washington, D.C. to hold several meetings with representatives of federal entities, including the White House.
Until yesterday, the government had spent $103 million on emergency response.