Washington - With the new allocations to mitigate 2017 natural disasters, the federal government has already authorized the total $ 140,7 billion within the past six months, that be distributed mainly between Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico´s government considers that it has practically assured about $ 18 billion of these funds and the option to aspire to a credit line of $ 4 billion passed last October. To access that money, they still have to prove lack of liquidity.
That estimate of about $ 18 billion includes the almost $ 16 billion that will surely go to the island from the funds allocated in the budget bill and to mitigate disasters passed on Friday.
Among the almost $ 16 billion expected through the most recent legislation - as long as the conditions of the federal government and the Fiscal Oversight Board are met - are the Medicaid $ 4,8 billion to be granted between now and September 2019, and the $ 11 billion for the community development program of the US Department of Housing (HUD), known as CDBG, which have been allocated to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Last October, in addition to a $4,9 billion credit line approved for jurisdictions with loss of income due to natural disasters, the second disasters relief resolution approved then included $ 1,27 billion in food assistance funds for Puerto Rico.
Last week, Pamela Hughes Patenaude, HUD Deputy Secretary, announced in San Juan that the HUD will award $1.5 billion to help repair damaged houses and businesses. These funds will be provided through the CDBG program.
Another $ 300 million - half of which are offered as a loan through the law signed on Friday - have been allocated to match the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects cost. The latest legislation also allocates $ 14 million in funds for food through the WIC program.
Through the contracts it grants, such as the $ 6 billion that the US Army Corps of Engineers has given to US electric companies to repair the power grid, and their traditional reimbursement program to families and local governments, FEMA has stated that it will grant another $ 13 billion to the island.
Like other federal jurisdictions, Puerto Rico´s government has access to the traditional FEMA fund to address disasters which, considering the $ 23,5 billion granted by the new budget and disaster relief bill, has totalled $ 44,96 billion since the 2017 natural disasters and forest fires. Through this FEMA fund, families and local governments request federal assistance.
The government and municipalities proposals may be also considered for CDBG program funds. Through CDBG, Congress has already allocated $ 35,4 billion. First, Congress passed $ 7,4 billion last September. In the budget and appropriation bill approved on Friday, Congress allocates another $ 28 billion to the CDBG program.
It is through the first $ 7,4 billion that HUD will award the $ 1,5 billion announced by Pamela Hughes Patenaude in Puerto Rico. While the law allocates $ 11 billion through the $ 28 billion in CDBG included in the third disasters relief bill for the jurisdictions hit by hurricanes Maria, that is Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico´s government is betting on access about $ 10 billion of these funds, either through the central government or through municipalities, according to sources. And out of the $ 11 billion, $ 2 billion are intended to repair the power grid in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Other federal programs, that have received significant allocations since last September, are the Corps of Engineers ($ 15 billion), the Small Business Administration ($ 2,1 billion) and emergency relief programs of the Federal Highway Administration ($ 1,374 billion). Puerto Rico expects to access funds from all those coffers. In the case of the Corps of Engineers and highways, the latest legislation allows access to be 100 percent financed by the federal government.
Y la resolución estableció además el lenguaje clave que permitirá a FEMA financiar las mejoras al sistema de energía eléctrica, no solo repararlo.
The resolution also established the key language that will allow FEMA to finance improvements to the electric power system, not just repair it.
However, Puerto Rico´s government estimated that it will require $ 94,4 billion to rebuild the island. According to Ricardo Rossello's government, some $ 30 billion will come from the traditional FEMA program, through which the agency plans to disburse $ 13 billion.
The access to the other $ 60 billion -like the CDBG funds- will be little by little.
Last December, Governor Rosselló urged Congress leadership to allocate $ 63,35 billion for Puerto Rico´s reconstruction, including $ 46 billion in CDBG funds; $ 11,35 billion in Medicaid, with two years at 100 percent of the current program, and $ 1,6 billion annually for the next three; $ 2,2 billion in Department of Transportation programs; $ 2 billion for agriculture and $ 1,8 billion in Corps of Engineers programs.
"There are more needs," said Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Administration of Federal Affairs of Puerto Rico (PRFAA).
An official damage estimate from US government agencies that will regulate the requests made by the island is still pending.
Jenniffer González, Resident Commissioner in Washington, said that the next disasters relief resolution may be discussed in Congress between April and May. By then, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands may be the core of the bill.
"Speaker Paul Ryan told me that there is going to be a fourth bill on supplementary allocations for Puerto Rico with specific projects for transportation and electric power,” González said a few days ago, before the approval of the bipartisan budget and appropriations bill.
Senator Marco Rubio noted that claims of states such as Florida and Texas was very helpfull in recent efforts in favor of funds for Puerto Rico
But he warned that Congress needs to allocate additional funds for disasters regularly. "There are other places that, by then, will have needs," said Senator Rubio, noting that probably Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands won´t be alone in the next debate.