La comisionada residente, Jenniffer González.
La comisionada residente, Jenniffer González. (Ramon Tonito Zayas)

Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González announced yesterday that she introduced measures in Congress to streamline the disbursement of federal funds to all U.S. jurisdictions in case of disasters.

Her proposal also seeks to expand the services that can be reimbursed by federal agencies during disasters like Hurricane María. “The timing is perfect for this because we have seen what has happened with snowfall in Texas, with wildfires in California, typhoons in the Pacific area, and certainly hurricanes for us,” she said.

One of these measures is H.R. 2016, to “develop a study regarding streamlining and consolidating information collection and preliminary damage assessments, and for other purposes.” It also seeks to create a federal group to ensure efficiency in the use of aid and to identify areas of duplication among agencies.

She also introduced HR 2020, to “provide for an online repository for certain reporting requirements for recipients of Federal disaster assistance, and other purposes,” and HR 2019, which seeks to add additional elements to the definition of critical services for recovery purposes. This bill would allow investment in services, such as hours worked by emergency personnel and removal of solid waste, to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Many of these definitions are in line with what the mayors have been asking me to include as part of the expenses,” González said.

On the other hand, bill HR 2018 “to waive certain provisions in the case of an emergency declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act,” which provides that, during an emergency, territories, including Puerto Rico, can only buy equipment from the United States.

González also introduced bill H.R. 2052 to require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to annually submit to Congress a report on all disaster-related assistance provided by the Federal Government. “There are 29 individual accounts administered by 11 federal agencies for disasters, and this makes it very difficult to determine where the funds are,” she said.

Meanwhile, HR 539 bill would ask FEMA administrators that, in cases where the agency makes a mistake in granting individual assistance and there is no fraud involved, the federal government cannot remove or recover the aid.

Bill HR 2017, on the other hand, proposes amendments to the critical services definition requirements guidelines and would make it mandatory to hire local licensed professionals to conduct inspections during emergencies.

We are putting it clearly in the law so that it will be automatic for any other disaster,” the commissioner said.

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