Judge Gelpí rebukes Puerto Rico government for blaming fiscal board
Health Dept. admits failing to use $19.6 million for mental illness program
SAN JUAN – U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí determined Wednesday that the government of Puerto Rico, not the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB), is responsible for the lack of funding for the commonwealth Health Department’s Division of Services for People with Intellectual Disabilities (DSPDI by its Spanish initials).
“The Commonwealth, and not the FOMB, is responsible for the budgetary restrictions imposed on DSPDI over the past four fiscal years, which includes ‘sweeping’ of DSPDI funds and underspending of assigned program funds in contradiction of the Court’s orders pursuant to the JCAP [Joint Compliance Action Plan],” reads the brief two-page order issued by Judge Gelpí regarding the board’s motion in compliance, which adds that the panel “has taken appropriate steps to facilitate future funding for DSPDI.”
The U.S. Justice Department has filed motions in federal court against the Puerto Rico Health Department for failure to provide rehabilitation and clinical services to DSPDI patients. The Health Department has acknowledged that it failed to use $19.6 million in funding since fiscal year 2016 for DSPDI programs that federal officials argue are vital to move mentally ill patients out of state institutions and into community mental health centers.
The agency failed to use a portion of the monies, which were returned to the commonwealth general fund, to build at least two community homes for the mentally ill. Even though federal officials say in the motions that DSPDI’s problems date back 20 years, the commonwealth government has alleged that the program’s budget was cut by $39 million due to the FOMB’s fiscal austerity requirements.
Judge Gelpí, however, said in his court order that the board was “open to enhanced funding for the DSPDI and its participants,” adding that the “FOMB is not the cause, nor responsible in any manner, for the diversion of DSPDI funds.”
Judge Gelpí said that, to the contrary, “FOMB’s actions moving forward are crucial to the Commonwealth’s fulfillment of its sacrosanct obligations to all participants under JCAP [Joint Compliance Action Plan]. Any future blame-shifting to the FOMB, thus, is irresponsible and unsupported.” While the commonwealth “repeatedly invokes” Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa), the federal law establishing the island’s debt restructuring process, the federal judge said it is “inapplicable” in this case.
In a press release, the FOMB welcomed Judge Gelpi’s opinion, noting that it confirms what it has said “numerous times” about similar commonwealth programs, including the Education Department’s Special Education program.
“FOMB has insisted in that agencies need to prioritize and ensure adequate budgets for programs and services that are vital for citizens,” the board said. “Given this situation, FOMB will consider addressing this matter with the utmost rigor to ensure that the monies go where they have to go without delay nor obstacles.”