Foundation for Puerto Rico calls for participation in resiliency planning

Begins touring island to receive input from communities, provide guidance

Foundation for Puerto Rico COO Annie Mayol, standing on right, discusses the WCRP program in Culebra. (Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) has begun visiting communities around the island to listen to and inform the public and organizations involved in the Whole Community Resilience Planning (WCRP) program, which was established as part of the island’s Disaster Recovery Action Plan.

The foundation was tasked with developing comprehensive recovery strategies for communities affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria. It was assigned $37.5 million as part of the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Action Plan for the WCRP. The federal funding was allocated via the U.S. and Puerto Rico housing departments.

Foundation is seeking to produce locally driven planning by providing opportunities for direct involvement in how the communities are rebuilt in a way that increases their preparedness and reduces their vulnerability to future disasters. Its objective is to integrate the needs, desires and resources of the residents in the reconstruction or relocation solutions.

The first phase of WCRP entails data collection and initial analysis, technical training and outreach to communities for input regarding the needs of each community and providing information about the program. The meetings will lay the groundwork for the next phase of housing recovery.

In the second phase, communities may apply for funding and receive up to $500,000 per community plan. Communities may submit plans through an NGO, with assistance from professional planning firms and developers. Planning may include “examining structural mitigation measures at either a community or individual house level, housing innovation, and effective land-use,” according to the disaster plan.

Regional planning and coordination, the plan adds, “are highly encouraged and municipios are encouraged to examine the needs of special communities. Plans should include a consideration of hazard risk as part of their assessment.”

The first community meeting was held Wednesday in the island-municipality of Culebra, where more than 20 members of organizations attended, including Mujeres de Islas, Proyecto Siembra, Proyecto Launch, Arte para SanArte, Asociación Educativa, Organización Green Culebra, Organización El Legado and Iglesia Episcopal Puertorriqueña.

“An integral part of the Program is to involve the communities, listen to them, provide the information they need so they can participate and know what the process and aid will be to design their resiliency plans. These methods will allow them to be prepared for future emergencies, especially high-risk communities,” the foundation’s president and COO, Annie Mayol, explained.

During March and April, the foundation will be traveling around the island as part of its Ruta a la Resiliencia, or Road to Resilience, tour. It will be holding two meetings in each region–as per the colors on the map below–one with nonprofit organizations and another with the municipalities.

The following are the next scheduled community meetings:

March 12 – Proyecto PECES in Humacao
March 19 – Vieques
March 20 – C3Tec in Caguas
March 22 – CMTAS in Yauco

In a press release, the foundation urged individuals and organizations interested in participating to email wcrp@foundationpr.org. It added that the dates for other upcoming meetings will be announced this month as well.

Foundation for Puerto Rico starts emergency resilience program




Federal recovery funds to boost Puerto Rico growth to 4.2% in 2020

SAN JUAN – The release of $1.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG – DR) Program funds following Hurricane Maria will boost Puerto Rico’s economy, which should grow 4.2 percent for fiscal year 2020 and remain in positive territory until 2022, according to new estimates by economic research and consulting firm Estudios Técnicos Inc.

“According to the Consolidated Plan of this federal program, about $1 billion of these funds will be destined to the construction and restoration of housing, so we expect that, by the second half of the year, an increase in housing construction investment will be seen, and with it, an increase in cement sales, as well as in construction employment. We also expect increases in the retail sale of construction materials and home supplies,” Estudios Técnicos President Graham Castillo said in a statement.

Graham Castillo Pagán, JD, president and COO of Estudios Técnicos Inc. and its Market Strategies Division (Courtesy)

Castillo indicated that the arrival of these funds gives greater certainty to his firm’s revised economic projections, which point toward an increase in economic activity of 4.2 percent in fiscal 2020 and 2.1 percent in 2021, with a 20.2 percent and 15.2 percent rise in investments those years, respectively.

The positive impact of the federal recovery funds would run through 2022 when it is estimated that growth would be 1.7 percent. For current fiscal 2019, Puerto Rico’s economic growth will be 3.1 percent, according to the firm’s revised estimates.

“We hope that the release of an additional $8 billion will be announced soon, which will improve the economic activity on the Island and the social conditions of low and moderate income people with housing needs resulting from Hurricane Maria. A particularly needy group is the elderly population,” Castillo said.

Castillo emphasized the need for a plan for sustained economic development that incorporates innovative projects in areas of opportunity for Puerto Rico. Estudios Técnicos estimates that among the sectors that are most likely to contribute to the economy are manufacturing; advanced services including technology and health and financial services; as well as agriculture and tourism.

 

HUD approves $1.5 billion in disaster recovery funds for Puerto Rico




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.

Citizen soldiers of the 190th Engineer Battalion, 101st Troop Command, Puerto Rico Army National Guard, alongside residents of the municipality of Cayey, conduct a route clearing mission after the destruction left by Hurricane Maria through the region, Sep. 30, 2017. (Puerto Rico Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Wilma Orozco Fanfa [The National Guard on VisualHunt])

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.

Puerto Rico Treasury account balance won’t affect access to community disaster funds

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.

Housing Secretary Fernando Gil (Screen capture of www.twitter.com/GilEnsenat)

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.

U.S. Sen. Hatch speaks about Puerto Rico Empowerment Act on Senate floor




Puerto Rico Treasury account balance won’t affect access to community disaster funds

Omar Marrero, chairman of the Public-Private Partnerships Association (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

SAN JUAN – The balance of the Puerto Rico government’s main account, which according to the latest figure was $2.65 billion, will not affect access to Community Disaster Block Grant program funds.

The director of the Public-Private Partnerships Authority, Omar Marrero, clarified Thursday that a requirement imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department that the island’s Treasury Single Account must be at less than $1 billion to qualify for the loans, does not affect access to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds managed by the U.S. Housing Department if used for infrastructure and other community aid.

Marrero explained that the maximum balance requirement is to qualify for Community Disaster Loans (CDLs), which are different from CDBGs, which already have an action plan, issued May 14, and will now go through a public comment process.

Federal grants will take long to help Puerto Rico’s recovery

“The CDBG funds are separate. They have applicable regulations and they won’t affect our access to those funds due to the TSA account,” Marrero said in an aside while participating in a Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association event.

The island’s TSA dropped to $2.65 billion, as of May 4, compared with the previous week, according to the latest report by Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority.

The weekly cash flow is $75 million and the accumulated net cash flow to date is $852 million. Despite the government having projected $102 million for the week ending May 4, general collections were $89 million.

In the week of April 27, the TSA had reached $2.73 billion. The account had been rising since at least March before declining the week of May 4. The report does not specify the reason for the drop.

U.S. Treasury Secretary, Puerto Rico governor reach agreement on disaster loans

On March 22, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced an agreement with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the terms for the disbursement of the CDL funds, which will be available if the island’s cash balance is below $1.1 million.

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado said in an interview Wednesday that for the time being these funds will not be requested because there is enough money in the TSA.




Puerto Rico governor meets with U.S Housing, Energy secretaries

(Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – While on a stateside Puerto Rico advocacy tour, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met Friday with federal government officials, such as Housing Secretary (HUD) Ben Carson, and members of Congress as part of his efforts toward the island’s recovery after Hurricane Maria.

According to a release issued by his office, Rosselló and Carson discussed several topics including the issue of informal housing on the island to “be able to help those who have property title problems to receive the necessary federal aid in order to rebuild their homes.”

During their meeting, the Housing secretary inquired about the recent blackouts that have occurred during the restoration of the electrical grid, with the governor replying that the outages reflect the fragile state of the island’s electric infrastructure and the “need to seek private capital to invest and improve the energy grid,” according to the release.

Rosselló thanked the secretary for the $18.5 billion allocation from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) program to help repair damaged homes, businesses and the grid.

He also discussed the funds’ disbursement process with HUD’s deputy secretary, Pamela Patenaude. The Puerto Rico government will present a plan for the use of the funds and submit weekly reports to HUD. 

(Courtesy)

Earlier, the governor met with Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, “who has expressed interest in the reconstruction process of the electric network in Puerto Rico,” the release reads, and “is willing to work with the chief executive on the tax issue,” which Congressman John Larson (D-CT) also told the governor was important for the island’s economic development.

Rosselló reiterated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) “has not worked diligently on the assigned task and has not demonstrated a sense of urgency during the emergency.”

And that although “there is a good working relationship between the Government of Puerto Rico and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),” there are “many bureaucratic processes that need to be amended to speed up the aid,” the release further adds about the topics discussed.

The governor’s entourage included his chief of staff, William Villafañe; and the executive and deputy directors of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, Carlos Mercader and George Laws, respectively.

The governor also met with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who acknowledged that the commonwealth government “should lead the process of rebuilding the electricity grid. He also guaranteed to support the Island with the necessary resources and studies,” according to a governor’s office release, which adds that “Perry said that the role of the governor is to implement the public policy of Puerto Rico.”




Central gov’t to provide Puerto Rico towns with guidance on federal funds

SAN JUAN – A series of workshops to educate Puerto Rico mayors in the correct way to access the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program as Disaster Recovery grants to rebuild after Hurricane Maria will be provided starting March 1.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló made the decision following the congressional approval of $16 billion in aid and after meeting with both the Federation and Association of mayors, which represent the municipal heads of the New Progressive (NPP) and the Popular Democratic (PDP) parties, respectively.

The director of the Central Office of Recovery and Reconstruction, Omar Marrero; Housing Secretary Fernando Gil; and the director of the Office of Socioeconomic and Community Development (Odsec by its Spanish acronym), Jesús Vélez, will be in charge of holding the seminars. The dates will be announced by La Fortaleza.

US House passes budget with multibillion-dollar allocation for Puerto Rico