Sunday, October 22, 2017

Puerto Rico gov requests help, not loans, from US Congress

By on October 4, 2017

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said that the assistance requested by the Financial Oversight and Management Board to the US Congress is not a loan, but rather a means to provide the island access to the different financial aid mechanisms and reimbursements available in the federal government to address the emergency.

In a five-page letter sent to members of Congress on Wednesday, the entity that oversees Puerto Rico’s fiscal policy, as well as the island’s elected government, urged lawmakers to pay special attention to Rosselló’s requests to work with response and recovery efforts after the scourge of hurricanes Irma and María.

The governor informed that hurricane-related deaths increased from 16 to 34. (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

Rosselló said he was informed of the board’s petition shortly before entering the press conference in which he detailed the specific requests he made to President Donald Trump during the latter’s visit to the island on Tuesday. The governor stressed that “it’s not that they are applying for a loan.”

The difference between applying for a loan and asking for aid or reimbursements is that a loan would have to be repaid. This would add to the island’s debt that already exceeds $120 billion and has the Puerto Rican government in court trying to define its repayment.

However, in its letter, the board asked Congress that in compliance with the response to the island’s crisis they offer an emergency liquidity program and low-interest loans to address the government’s cash problem. The governor acknowledged this week that if help doesn’t arrive soon, the government could run out of money in the coming weeks.

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For its part, the board declared that if the largest possible federal aid as well as an emergency liquidity program are not provided this would spell ruin for Puerto Rico.

In its letter, the board specified that Congress must exempt the island from local government cost-sharing requirements for disaster recovery programs, increase the limits of disaster recovery programs, allow it to benefit from recovery programs and give Puerto Rico parity for receiving Medicaid funds.

They also pointed out that “support will be necessary in order to rebuild critical infrastructure and address the housing needs of a displaced population to avoid massive migration from Puerto Rico to the mainland.”

“To this end, Congress must provide Puerto Rico with substantial emergency subsidies to finance expenditures necessary to protect health and safety, repair damaged infrastructure, and meet other critical needs of the people of Puerto Rico,” the letter reads.

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Governor Rosselló said that during President Trump’s visit he was able to detail those needs to the executive, his chief-of-staff, John Kelly, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Brock Long.

Among his priorities is also to grant supplementary Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for housing construction and support for small and medium-sized businesses.

“I explained it to him and, certainly, the president and his chief-of-staff told me that they will be with Puerto Rico for the long term, we already have a point of contact in order to go into detail about all these things. There is a specificity that needs to be observed […] but certainly the request is made. And now it is up to us to follow up and achieve those results,” the governor said.

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Rosselló spoke for the first time about an estimate of damages caused by Hurricane María, which impacted the island thirteen days ago. According to the governor, that figure could exceed $95 billion. He also reported that the number of hurricane-related deaths rose from 16 to 34, including two suicides.

He stated that, as he perceived it, Trump and his heads of agencies understand the magnitude of the devastation and need for help islandwide.

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