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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), in addition to 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’s capped at a level lower than the actual need and reimbursed at a lower rate than it will have if Puerto Rico were a state. The governor asked for 3 changes: “(1) a brief 100% FMAP as was provided following hurricane Maria; (2) an extra allocation through the tip of the yr of $400 million to eliminate the present 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 dietary support for people whose food resources have been affected by disasters. Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program, like its healthcare funding, is capped no matter need and in addition funded at a lower rate than within the states. Puerto Rico can be not eligible to participate ins D-SNAP. Following Maria, Puerto Rico didn’t have access to disaster food resources for six months.
  • Adequate disaster relief funding. This item simply asked for sufficient funding. Following Maria, quite a lot of obstacles prevented Puerto Rico from receiving the funds allocated to the territory.
  • Funding to enhance infrastructure.”Within the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 Congress allowed FEMA to fund projects for the aim of not only restoring damaged infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions, but additionally ensuring that it’s built as much as the newest codes and standards, including increased resiliency,” Pierluisi identified. “The identical must 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 present in the territory, in addition to to the upper 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 long 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 note of the impact of inflation, labor shortages, and provide chain issues on the Island’s economy,” he wrote.
  • Fund solar energy. Rooftop solar installations helped get residents back to normal after Hurricane Maria. Taking these steps sooner could make a short-term difference for residents, in addition to increasing long-term resilience.
  • Streamline administrative processes. “Due to the many and catastrophic disasters over the past five years,” the governor explained, “Puerto Rico and FEMA have struggled to administer the implementation of multiple disaster declarations – each with different policies, rules and cost-shares – to deal with losses in the identical geographic areas, with the identical applicants, and in lots of cases the identical facilities.” He requested that the strategy of administering multiple disaster responses which haven’t yet been accomplished 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 aren’t any longer practical, given the extra damage from hurricane Fiona, cost increases, and labor shortages which have occurred since 2017.
  • Revise deadlines. The identical 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 dearth of funds to pay for work which might then be reimbursed has been a serious obstacle to recovery from Hurricane Maria. Pierluisi asks for more funds for this program to hurry up disaster response and recovery.
  • Re-evaluation of Army Corps of Engineers projects. Pierluisi asks that the Army Corps of Engineers be given the flexibleness 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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