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Jenniffer González.
Jenniffer González. (Jenniffer González Cólon)

Yauco - Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, announced yesterday they will introduce bipartisan legislation that would allocate supplementary funds to address the emergency in the island's southern municipalities, which have been hit by the recent earthquakes.

González said this during a visit to Yauco, Guayanilla, and Guánica, with a congressional bipartisan delegation including Florida representatives Bill Posey, Stephanie Murphy, and Donna Shalala.

"There is going to be an aid package that will be approved in Congress, known as supplemental aid that could reach a billion-dollar figure and that is why they are here to see first hand what the needs are, where and why," González said.

Meanwhile, Shalala said that they want to help and support Puerto Rico and insisted that “we are all American citizens. We stand together and this has nothing to do with political parties. Earthquakes are not Republican or Democratic."

Shalala explained that the legislation they intend to introduce is still a draft bill but, that in short, it would seek additional Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, with more "flexible” access.

"I think the important thing here is that this is a bipartisan delegation. We are eager to help. We understand that this is very different from a hurricane. Seismic activity is going to continue for a long period... and it needs to be handled differently," the congresswoman said.

"The House Democratic majority has discussed the possibility of granting new supplemental aid that goes to different areas ... it's not coordinated with the Senate or the President. It is one of the House proposals and we will always support and work together," she added.

As part of their tour, yesterday González and the congressional bipartisan delegation visited the community of Alturas del Cafetal, where many houses collapsed. A community camp was also set up there.

Before the tour, González and Congress members met with state and federal officials to learn about the emergency on the island caused by recent earthquakes and they discussed FEMA's response plans after the aid package approved, the aid that will be available, as well as the disbursement and use of recovery funds after Hurricane María hit the island in 2017.

"For us, it is very important, at a time when more resources are being approved, to know, first, that they get where they have to get, and second, to see what else is needed," González added.

Murphy added they want to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of funds approved by the federal government. “I will use what we learned to ensure that aid reaches the island with full accountability and transparency," she added.

Yauco Mayor Ángel Luis Torres took the opportunity to request González, in face of the local government´s damaged image before federal agencies, to channel additional funds to be approved through the municipalities of Yauco and Ponce, which are classified as "entitlement." Municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, classified as "entitlement", can receive funds from the federal government without the participation of the state government.

Torres also advocated for the approval of Community Disaster Loans (CDL), which after Hurricane María were granted to all municipalities at a low-interest rate.

"It would be an economic injection to the budget and would help solve deficits or losses we are going to have due to the SUT and licences because there are many businesses that have not reopened," he said.

The mayor of Guayanilla, Nelson Torres Yordán, asked the congressional delegation to intercede with the U.S. President Trump's administration to expedite federal aid.

"Our municipality is the epicenter of the aftershocks that began on December 28 and have not ended, and in our shelter, there are thousands of people who have been affected by the earthquake," Torres Yordán said.

Torres Yordán added the main concern among those affected by the earthquakes is that FEMA announced a maximum amount of $35,500 grant for those who have lost their homes when there are structures with demolition and construction costs that would significantly exceed this amount.