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Governor Informs Congress of Priorities for Recovery

Governor Pierluisi wrote to congressional leaders listing actions that “would enable Puerto Rico to pivot from response to recovery and rebuilding from Fiona, the hurricanes of 2017 and earthquakes of 2020.”

The letter was addressed to Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House; Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader; and to their respective Republican counterparts,  Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Copies also went to members on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, including leaders Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-CT), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), as well as to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colon (R-PR).

Five top priorities

Pierluisi outlined five changes that he believes would strengthen Puerto Rico’s economy.

  • Medicaid equity. Medicaid in Puerto Rico is restricted compared with the funding provided for the states. It is capped at a level lower than the actual need and reimbursed at a lower rate than it would have if Puerto Rico were a state. The governor asked for three changes: “(1) a temporary 100% FMAP as was provided following hurricane Maria; (2) an additional allocation through the end of the year of $400 million to eliminate the current deficit under the capped allocation; and (3) the continuation of the $200 million increase for provider fees.”
  • D_SNAP eligibility. The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides additional nutritional support for people whose food resources have been affected by disasters. Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program, like its healthcare funding, is capped regardless of need and also funded at a lower rate than in the states. Puerto Rico is also not eligible to participate ins D-SNAP. Following Maria, Puerto Rico did not have access to disaster food resources for six months.
  • Adequate disaster relief funding. This item simply asked for sufficient funding. Following Maria, a variety of obstacles prevented Puerto Rico from receiving the funds allocated to the territory.
  • Funding to improve infrastructure.”In the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 Congress allowed FEMA to fund projects for the purpose of not only restoring damaged infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions, but also ensuring that it is built up to the latest codes and standards, including increased resiliency,” Pierluisi pointed out. “The same should be done for Hurricane Fiona.”
  • USDA support for agriculture. Puerto Rico imports about 85% of the food needed on the Island, a circumstance that contributes to the 40% food insecurity found in the territory, as well as to the higher prices seen in Puerto Rico. Pierluisi asks for supplemental funding for existing USDA programs, including the Emergency Relief Program (ERP) and the Feed Assistance Program (FAP). These programs will assist farmers and ranchers who lost their crops in Hurricane Fiona and the resultant flooding.

Additional requests

Governor Pierluisi made some additional requests for the longer term.

  • Reinstate FEMA’s STEP (Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power) Program. This program will help individuals rebuild damaged homes and gain electricity. “Project caps must also take into account the impact of inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain issues on the Island’s economy,” he wrote.
  • Fund solar power. Rooftop solar installations helped get residents back to normal after Hurricane Maria. Taking these steps sooner could make a short-term difference for residents, as well as increasing long-term resilience.
  • Streamline administrative processes. “Because of the numerous and catastrophic disasters over the last five years,” the governor explained, “Puerto Rico and FEMA have struggled to manage the implementation of multiple disaster declarations – each with different policies, rules and cost-shares – to address losses in the same geographic areas, with the same applicants, and in many cases the same facilities.” He requested that the process of administering multiple disaster responses which have not yet been completed be streamlined for efficiency.
  • Review FEMA 428 policy. Section 428 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act allows FEMA to work with fixed-cost estimates. Pierluisi wrote that the fixed costs estimates for damage from Hurricane Maria are no longer practical, given the additional damage from hurricane Fiona, cost increases, and labor shortages which have occurred since 2017.
  • Revise deadlines. The same issues have affected the timelines for recovery work from Hurricane Maria. The governor requests flexibility on deadlines for these projects.
  • Expansion of Working Capital Advance program. The lack of funds to pay for work which would then be reimbursed has been a major obstacle to recovery from Hurricane Maria. Pierluisi asks for more funds for this program to speed up disaster response and recovery.
  • Re-evaluation of Army Corps of Engineers projects. Pierluisi asks that the Army Corps of Engineers be given the flexibility to re-evaluate projects underway for recovery from Hurricane Maria. he also asks that they be allowed to waive cost-benefit calculations, as was allowed in Mississippi.

Read the letter.

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