Puerto Rico towns band together to secure CDBG funding
Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the May 24-30, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.
In an unusual but predictable turn of events, Puerto Rico’s Mayors Association and Mayors Federation set aside their ideological rivalries and agreed the $1.5 billion federal grant assigned through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR) should go directly to the municipal governments and not to the central government.
The municipalities say that after the emergency from Hurricane Maria, they have proven to be the most effective and experienced government entities to meet constituent needs.
“Eight months after Hurricane Maria’s passage, everyone admits municipalities are more effective in recovery administration. To that, add that it is municipalities that have the experience managing CDBG funds, and not the central government,” said Cayey Mayor Rolando Ortiz Velázquez, who is also the president of the Popular Democratic Party-affiliated Mayors Association (APPR by its Spanish initials), during a recent meeting to respond to issues related to municipal reconstruction.Regarding the million-dollar allocation, APPR mayors warned that all municipalities have the same needs and pointed out that it is their duty to ensure their recovery is equitable and not linked to partisan political affiliations.
Likewise, the PDP mayors highlighted a meeting held with the resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González Colón, to accelerate the recovery processes under the direction of the municipalities themselves, complying with all federal stipulations. However, they did not indicate the resident commissioner’s position on the matter.
Carlos Molina Rodríguez, Arecibo mayor and president of the New Progressive Party-affiliated Mayors Federation (FAPR by its Spanish initials), concurred with his counterpart’s claims, stressing that the most important factor is to get the funds to the municipalities, where it is most needed.
“The municipalities are capable of managing the funds, and if Congress is considering sending them directly to the rest of the municipalities, to me, as FAPR president and mayor of Arecibo, that’s fine. Aside from the consideration about who should manage the funds, the important thing is that they arrive now and have the impact that Puerto Ricans need in this historic moment,” said Molina Rodríguez in a written statement.
The mayor of Cidra and executive director of the Municipal Revenue Collections Center (CRIM by its Spanish acronym), Javier Carrasquillo, said the state does not have the capacity to simultaneously undertake so many recovery projects, and its efforts fall short in addressing the great need that exists outside the San Juan metropolitan area. For Carrasquillo, the proper way to administer these funds is by handing them directly to the town halls.
“I think it is important for municipalities to be considered as subrecipients of CDBG-DR funds because each municipality’s needs are very specific, and the state does not have the structural capacity to simultaneously handle so many projects. We should not have the same experiences we lived with Tu Hogar Renace, which although well-intentioned, fell short of attending to many cases and meeting the real needs. The way to ensure the proper use of resources is to put them in the hands of the municipalities,” said the FAPR-affiliated Carrasquillo.
Process would be delayed
Through a written statement, Fernando Gil Enseñat, secretary of the P.R. Housing Department, explained that the agency already has an action plan in place to administer the funds and a petition to Congress to deliver them directly to municipalities would only delay the process when expediency is in order.
“As part of [Housing’s] action plan, we held public hearings around Puerto Rico, which included the participation of mayors, municipal representatives and citizens who submitted proposals. At this point, wanting to be recipients of these funds would delay the recovery process, which has already been directed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló,” said the head of the Housing Department.
“The government wants the participation of the municipalities, but to guarantee transparency and accountability to HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development], the latter decided a single entity would be responsible for the administration of the program,” he added.
Gil Enseñat explained that HUD allocated the CDBG-DR funds to the central government, which designated the local Housing Department as “grantee” for that federal program. The head of Housing insisted the agency has been working for three months on the action plan published on cdbg-dr.pr.gov.
However, the announcement by the island mayors’ groups coincides with statements made this week by the chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch, who said he is disappointed about a lack of transparency from the Rosselló administration.