President Biden has authorized 100% cost-sharing for Puerto Rico’s disaster relief, making it retroactive to September 17th, the date of Hurricane Fiona’s landfall in Puerto Rico.
The funding covers debris removal, emergency protective measures, direct federal assistance, temporary housing and home repairs, and low-interest loans for individuals and businesses. It will be in force for 30 days.
One of the reasons that Puerto Rico has been unable to access and use federal funds allocated for disaster assistance after Hurricane Maria was that local authorities must pay for repair work up front and then apply for reimbursement of part of the costs.
In many cases, Puerto Rico governments were unable to come up with needed funds for repairs. Unable to make payments for the materials and work up front, they were unable to complete the work and apply for reimbursement.
Additionally, some federal agencies set extra requirements for Puerto Rico’s funding that were not required of states.
A 100% federal cost share is one solution to the problem. This will ensure that Puerto Rico is able to use the funds allocated to the Island for disaster recovery.
Congress urged the president to make this decision in a series of letters.
Letters from legislators
On September 21, a group of U.S. Senators wrote to President Biden asking for a change in the federal funding process for Puerto Rico uring him to “waive the local cost-sharing requirements by setting the federal cost-share at 100% for Public Assistance grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Puerto Rico.”
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) along with Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT).and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“We are concerned,” the senators wrote, “that Puerto Rico will have difficulty covering the 25% local match, which could delay access to federal assistance for removing debris and making emergency repairs to public facilities and infrastructure.”
The day before, on September 20, a larger group of Senators joined with their House colleagues to make a similar request.
“Governor Pierluisi has formally requested a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities in response to Hurricane Fiona. We strongly urge you to approve this request to ensure Puerto Rico has all the federal resources available to respond to this disaster,” the letter began. “Hurricane Fiona devastated the island with catastrophic flash flooding, unprecedented rainfall, and high-speed winds. The hurricane caused an island-wide blackout, leaving over three million residents without power for over twenty-four hours. Furthermore, 750,000 homes remain without potable water. Bridges have collapsed, roads are blocked with debris, and schools are damaged. FEMA Public Assistance is urgently needed to begin restoring this vital infrastructure.”
The letter’s supporters included: Reps. Val Demings (D-FL), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Bernie Thompson (D-MS), Alma Adams (D-NC), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Darren Soto (D-FL), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Al Green (D-TX), and Chuy Garcia (D-IL) joined Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA). Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Letters to FEMA
Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), who is challenging incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Noevember, also wrote to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell recommending 100% cost-share as in the senators’ letter. “I’m calling on FEMA to fully cost-share the emergency aid to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona,” she wrote. “Our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico need our support and we must answer. There is no excuse for our fellow Americans to suffer and wait for aid in the richest country on Earth. Hurricane Fiona is yet another blow atop the still-ongoing recovery from Hurricane Maria. It’s been five years since Hurricane Maria and this time we must do better.”
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) also wrote a letter with Gonzalez-Colon to Criswell referencing the president’s declarations and asking for immediate attention to the destruction of Hurricane Fiona.