Puerto Rico Gov Details Aid Available to Earthquake Victims
SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced Tuesday different state and federal assistance services that are available and that have been offered to people affected by the recent seismic events so they can return to their homes or to a safe property.
Vázquez detailed the aid available during a news conference at the La Fortaleza governor’s mansion, alongside agency heads including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, and the National Guard.
Some 4,600 evacuees remain in shelters after two earthquakes of magnitude 6 and higher and thousands of aftershocks rattled the island at the beginning of the month. More than 62,822 people have received some kind of government service at the different shelters in the southwestern part of the island.
Meanwhile, over 880 military personnel have been activated to help address the situation and health related services have been offered to 2,524 people.
“During the various visits I have made, both to shelters and to the [military] base camps, I have realized that although there are people who have lost their homes or suffered damage, many simply do not want to sleep indoors,” Vázquez said. “Even if their home was undamaged, they prefer to be in the base camps or under tents for safety [reasons]. As of Jan. 25, 4,600 people were not living in their homes and living in temporary accommodations as a result of the earthquakes. We want to be able to provide them with security, inspecting their residences and providing emotional help so that those who live in safe houses, can return.”
As part of the assistance being offered by the government, Vázquez noted that checks worth $2 million have been given to the mayors in the towns of Guánica, Ponce, Guayanilla, Yauco, Peñuelas and Utuado. She said that checks worth $250,000 were also granted to the mayors of Lares, Adjuntas, Jayuya, Las Marías, Sabana Grande, Maricao, San Germán, Cabo Rojo, Lajas, Juana Díaz and Villalba.
People living outside of their homes are being identified to be able to provide assistance to them. This may include damage assessment and safety inspection, as well as financial aid for repairs or assisting with short-term rentals. Those requiring non-housing assistance are also being identified to provide them counseling, unemployment aid and childcare services, among others.
A short-term plan is being implemented in conjunction with government agencies and FEMA to meet the needs of those affected.
“We seek to reach and meet the needs of the affected population after the earthquakes by aligning the most appropriate resources at federal and state levels that support their transition to a safe, sanitary and functional housing,”said FEMA’s Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Alex Amparo. “FEMA’s commitment is to continue to support Puerto Rico in its recovery and reconstruction responsibly and effectively.”
Officials indicated that one of the short-term goals is to maximize the collaborative efforts within two groups: individuals or families with property damage; and individuals or families with undamaged property.
Programs available to these groups include counseling by the Mental Health & Antiaddiction Services Administration, assistance from the Public Housing Program under Section 9 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937,l and the Free Home Selection Voucher Program under Section 8.
Similarly, the Emergency Solutions Program provides assistance to individuals and families who need immediate housing through emergency vouchers that provide rental assistance for up to 24 months.
FEMA is also offering services such as the Crisis Counseling Program, Disaster Unemployment Assistance, and financial assistance for housing rentals, financial assistance for home repair or replacement, as well as other assistance including moving related costs, storage and childcare.
“We have a collaborative team that will put all available resources in people’s hands,” said Ottmar Chávez, the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3).
Housing Administrator William Rodríguez stressed that “in times of great need, it is transcendental to be rigorous but immediate in providing affordable housing opportunities to people whose needs remain compromised.”
A medium-term plan, meanwhile, includes an assessment of home damage, while a second group of people is provided psychological or emotional support and childcare.
During this second phase, the HOME Program will be available. These federal funds can be used to provide assistance including housing rental or the rehabilitation or new construction of the home they own.
Home rehabilitation and financial assistance programs for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will also be available. The FEMA Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program may be available upon separate request and approval.
Finally, in the long term, and to meet the needs after the transition to a safe, adequate and sanitary home, home repair and new construction programs will be aligned at a state and federal level, with financial and rental assistance, to restore homes.
Under a separate application and approval, the Temporary Accommodation Program will also be available at a state level; the Housing Buyer Incentive Program of the Housing Finance Authority (AFV by its Spanish initials); as well as the Home Development and Acquisition Program from the Housing Department and Infrastructure Financing Authority (AFI by its Spanish acronym) will also be available.
FEMA could also include on request and approval the Direct Housing Program, the Multifamily Repair and Rent Program, the Direct Rental Program and the Permanent Housing Building Program.
Vázquez also announced, the availability of $759,000 from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program (DUA), which through the Labor Department will benefit those affected by earthquakes.
“During his visit on Monday, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor informed us of the approval of the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program (DUA), thanks to the trust placed in my administration, which achieved the availability of these funds,” Vázquez said.