Puerto Rico, Territories Allowed to Acquire Medical Supplies, Equipment Overseas With Fed Aid
Resident commissioner says she pushed for change after waiver given to states
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to waive the Buy American Act provisions of the Stafford Act and allow U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, to use federal disaster funding to acquire medical equipment and supplies from foreign locations outside the United States during the Covid-19 emergency.
González said she requested the waiver after FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor on Saturday that the Buy American Act provisions included in the Stafford Act covering disaster aid would be waived for states but would be continued to be enforced Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
The resident commissioner said she discussed her concerns with Gaynor after the press conference and he assured her that he would consult with FEMA attorneys to correct the situation.
In a letter to Gaynor, she said the Covid-19 pandemic was “taxing heavily the availability of supplies and materials for conducting the necessary testing, providing Personal Protective Equipment to caretakers, and deploying medical devices and supplies necessary for diagnosis, isolation and treatment,” adding that Puerto Rico’s geographic location “complicates shipment and delivery” of such “lifesaving supplies” and requires the island get it from “the best available source.”
The FEMA determination, made public by González on Sunday, says that the Buy American Act—which applies to Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands—includes a series of exceptions covering situations in which materials produced or manufactured in the United States become scarce due to lack of internal supply or unreasonable prices.
The determination states that given the circumstances of President Donald Trump’s Covid-19 National Emergency Declaration and the demand for personal protection equipment and medical supplies, FEMA “sees as appropriate” that Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories determine themselves if they need to apply any of these exceptions.
“Therefore, if the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa or the U.S. Virgin Islands determine that they cannot acquire medical supplies and equipment from national sources due to the lack of availability or reasonable prices, they may work to obtain them from foreign sources,” the FEMA determination states. “FEMA will work with these applicants to guarantee that their reimbursement request documents adequately reflect the reason for which they could not comply with the Buy American Act.”