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Hurricane Damage Assessment

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has told congressional leaders that a complete assessment of damages and costs resulting from the back-to-back hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 will not come until at least the final quarter of 2019.

“A complete assessment of damages and costs resulting from the Hurricanes Irma and María will not come until an agreement has been reached on all final cost estimates under the Section 428 process, which is currently scheduled to conclude in October 2019,” the governor wrote in the commonwealth’s fourth 30-day interim status update on progress toward the development of the Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan required by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

Under the act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Feb. 9, the Puerto Rico government was required to develop within 180 days a 12-month and 24-month economic and disaster recovery plan. In anticipation of the recovery plan, Congress also required the commonwealth to provide interim status updates every 30 days after enactment. The budget law required that the recovery plan be developed in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In accordance with that requirement, Rosselló provided the fourth update in a June 9 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The first report was delivered March 11, the second on April 10 and the third on May 10.

In the fourth update, Rosselló signaled that ongoing work with federal agencies and other stakeholders includes refining a damage and needs assessment, or DNA, which provides an executive summary of the damage and needs across Puerto Rico. “The refinement of the DNA has helped us further refine our vision, goals, and strategic objectives for the Recovery Plan,” the governor said.

The update presents a “vision statement” that serves as the “foundation” of Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane recovery efforts. It reads: “To build the new Puerto Rico to meet the current and future needs of the people through sustainable economic development; social transformation; transparent and innovative approaches to governance; resilient, modern, and state-of-the-art infrastructure; and a safe, educated, healthy, and sustainable society.”

The goals underpinning the vision statement guide the development of strategic objectives that provide a mechanism for articulating how recovery funding will be invested, the governor said, drawing a line between “capital investments” and “strategic initiatives.”

“To better articulate how strategic objectives relate to one another, we have developed a recovery investment framework that distinguishes strategic objectives we consider ‘capital investments’ (i.e., those that address infrastructure needs) and those that we consider ‘strategic initiatives’ (i.e., those that aim to achieve a particular economic or social outcome through a mix of investments and policy changes),” Rosselló wrote.

The governor said work to refine the strategic objectives is ongoing and provided a current list broken down between capital investments and strategic initiatives.

“Capital investments will provide a strong environment for economic development and growth by rebuilding, protecting, and enhancing physical, natural and human capital,” he said. “Strategic initiatives are integrated, cross-sectoral pathways that we could use to guide the investments that will shape the future of Puerto Rico.”

Rosselló said the process of assessing and selecting which courses of action, or COAs, should be undertaken to achieve the strategic objectives is ongoing, adding that nearly 300 COAs have been identified to date through a holistic process that has included engagement with all the key stakeholders. He said the COAs also reflect the “extensive efforts” the island government has put into “reimagining Puerto Rico’s future” in the Build Back Better Puerto Rico plan, the new certified fiscal plan and his campaign platform known as the Plan for Puerto Rico.

Given the large number of ways in which stakeholders can combine COAs together to address Puerto Rico’s economic and disaster recovery needs, the governor said that “stakeholder creativity and vision play an important role alongside technical knowledge” in developing the recovery plan. He noted that Cabinet secretaries and agency heads have worked with the U.S. Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center and FEMA to create “portfolios,” or collections of COAs, “designed to provide implementation pathways to achieve our strategic objectives.”

Rosselló said the government and federal agencies are developing a strategy for a public comment period prior to the Aug. 8 deadline to submit the recovery plan as required by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which mandates the promotion of “transparency and accountability through appropriate public notification, outreach, and hearings.” As part of the process, an overview of the plan and its components will be presented to key stakeholders in Puerto Rico, including mayors and other political leaders. The governor noted that “the timing is challenging” but said he anticipated that public comments on components of the plan would be sought before the end of July in order to be incorporated into the final recovery plan.

“We are encouraged that this Recovery Plan will provide a guide for a smarter, better and more robust recovery for Puerto Rico. Our intent is to identify all interested stakeholders and sources of funding and to ensure that all ideas and funding are well-coordinated across all sectors of the recovery,” the governor concluded. “We appreciate the interest and support of Congress and commit to continuing transparency as we track our progress.”

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