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FEMA mulls trimming inspections to reduce Puerto Rico funding delays

By on February 11, 2019

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón met Monday with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to look for alternatives that allow for quicker disbursement of recovery funds.

“This is not at the magnitude we all expect this to run. I think everyone agrees on that,” González Colón replied when asked if she considered FEMA’s disbursement process as slow.

For his part, Tito Hernández, the spokesperson for FEMA in Puerto Rico, explained the issue regarding the pace of the funding process.

“We are evaluating how we eliminate the inspection process for many of the inspections we have to do, because there are thousands of inspections, many. We are looking at sampling for that,” Hernández said, referring to looking for comparables to determine the price of the jobs requested.

When determined, a single price would be established, for example, for the repair of a roof on a 1,000-square-foot property.

“For the roofs, we have 1,100 schools, but I also have to inspect 350 public housing complexes. All of them have roofs in the same situation and they are more or less the same. But I also have 2,500 public buildings that have damages. So, if I have a general rule that groups all those roofs, I don’t have to inspect them,” he said.

Hernández said that by reducing the inspection process, the flow of money would increase.

“For an inspection, I have to bring mitigation people, people from [the] Environmental [Protection Agency]. The other thing is that once I do the inspections, the project is not going to be done quickly. If I have historical [property]–and in Puerto Rico most of the buildings are historical–I also have to follow the historical [building] rules. It’s not so easy,” he assured.

Congresswoman, however, said legislation will be needed to change the way in which emergency funds are disbursed.

“This is an issue that we are going to be discussing. For my part, I say there will be congressional hearings on this. I’m telling you we’re going to be introducing legislation that is the product of all these meetings and visits that we’ve been doing, to make amendments to the Stafford Act and FEMA’s law for disaster management.

“We are going to see more visits by members of Congress to the island. There will be more hearings on the matter of Puerto Rico, because that is what we are doing,” she stressed.

The resident commissioner said her proposal for a federal funding coordinator is not to add bureaucracy.

“It can’t be a person who comes to caress the paperwork, it has to be a doer,” she said.

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