Backing Puerto Rico gov ‘is the ticket’ to disbursement of federal recovery funds
Former official optimistic that DC’s impression of Vázquez will turn tide
By Agustín Criollo Oquero and Philipe Schoene Roura
SAN JUAN — Amid the stagnation of congressionally approved Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program funds, the Puerto Rico Transportation and Public Works secretary under the administration of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, civil engineer Carlos Pesquera, said the key to achieving quicker disbursement is in the backing the new governor receives from different sectors of the island.
In an interview with Caribbean Business, however, Pesquera was optimistic that Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s governing style will send a strong message to Congress after Washington lost confidence in former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration.
For the engineer, who is an expert in federal fund matters, the fiscal discipline message sent to Washington must be strong and firm.
“I think there is an important point and it is that once the governor projects that she has the support of the Puerto Rican people and all sectors of the island, they will respect her. For me, this is a matter of she needing to worry more about here than there,” Pesquera said.
“Once she goes to Washington and tells them that the island supports her, I have no doubt that they will listen to her. They know everything that happens here. The important thing, it seems to me, is the support that Puerto Ricans give to the governor. The ticket to get those funds to arrive is to show that we support her,” he assured.
The former secretary said Vázquez has managed to win the support of the citizenry so far and suggested she use the capital obtained in such a short time as governor to demand before Congress that the reconstruction process of the island after hurricanes Irma and María be addressed immediately.
“I believe this is the message that needs to be delivered to Congress and rub it in their face,” he said in reference to the pejorative tone with which President Donald Trump has referred to Puerto Rico affairs since the 2017 hurricanes.
Pesquera criticized the attitude of the local government of not confronting Congress and demanding the disbursement of FEMA and CDBG-DR funds once and for all, as stipulated in the Stafford Act of 1988, also known as Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. He insisted that it is not charity, but a legal right as citizens of the United States.
The Stafford Act constitutes the legal authority for most federal disaster response activity, especially with regard to FEMA programs, and covers U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
“FEMA is not here because someone likes us…. They are here because the Stafford Act creates protocols for when an emergency like Hurricane Maria occurs, and when this happens the people of FEMA arrive and although it is true that for Medicaid we are not equal, for FEMA we are,” stressed the also former New Progressive Party candidate for resident commissioner.
Pesquera also noted that the law considers Indian territories and tribes and said that “there is no way for the president [Trump] to run from that responsibility, that Puerto Rico be attended after the disaster as we deserve. But municipalities, agencies and the State have to be part of that request to confront these federal agencies, with respect, but with firmness.”