Puerto Rico’s Muñoz Marin Airport granted $1.5 million to rehabilitate a runway

An aerial view of Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (Screen capture of aeropuertosju.com)

FAA announces $478 million in Airport Improvement Program funding across the U.S.

SAN JUAN – U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $478 million in airport infrastructure grants, the fourth allotment of the total $3.18 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airports across the United States.  

The FAA will award grants to 232 airports in 43 states, including American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico, which was awarded $1.5 million to rehabilitate a runway at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina

The other selected projects also include runway reconstruction and rehabilitation, construction of firefighting facilities, and the maintenance of taxiways, aprons, and terminals. The construction and equipment supported by these grants are to enhance safety and capacity “while promoting economic growth in the regions served by each airport,” according to the announcing release.

“This significant investment in airport improvements in Puerto Rico will fund construction and rehabilitation projects that will help maintain high levels of safety in U.S. aviation,” Chao said.

Airport infrastructure in the United States, with 3,332 airports and 5,000 paved runways, “supports our economic competitiveness and improves quality of life,” the FAA said, adding that according to its most recent economic analysis, U.S. civil aviation accounts for $1.6 trillion in economic activity and supports nearly 11 million jobs. 

Airports can receive a certain amount of AIP entitlement funding each year based on activity levels and project needs.  If their capital project needs exceed their available entitlement funds, the FAA can supplement their entitlements with discretionary funding, the release explains.

Puerto Rico gov’t disburses $16 million to farmers


To foster recovery through Hydroponics Program; gov commits to doubling food production

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy announced Tuesday the disbursement of $16 million to help boost the development and recovery of the island’s agriculture industry through the Hydroponic Program.

The incentives, which were awarded to 150 farmers that cultivate using hydroponics and aquaponics, are derived from the Special Economic Development Fund of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco).

“These farmers will receive 75 percent of the reimbursement, up to a maximum of $300,000, for established hydroponic projects, for the recovery of their productive structures or for efficiency improvement projects through automation; and 50 percent of the reimbursement, up to a maximum of $250,000, for new farmer projects to establish operations,” the governor said.

Laboy said that in addition to the incentive the agency grants farmers, a private investment of about $33.9 million will be made so that they can complete their developments.

“DDEC’s Hydroponics Program had an impressive reception,” Laboy said. “Initially, we announced that we had $7 million available for the recovery of hydroponics affected by Hurricane Maria, as well as for the farmers interested in venturing in this farming style.”

The official added that “given the avalanche of requests received and after passing the evaluation process, today we announce this multimillion-dollar disbursement and the retention of 490 jobs and the creation of 136 positions in agriculture.”
The incentive could be used as financing guarantee for the project developed and could be combined with federal incentives received, but cannot be combined with incentives received from the Puerto Rico Agriculture Department or its affiliates.

“We know the need to increase our food production, as well as its export in a more certain environment,” the governor said. “Our commitment as an administration is to double the 15 percent production of food in the island within an eight-year period.”

He added that “following the public policy to establish efforts to create resilient structures in the event of the arrival of another hurricane,” Pridco established a special price of $2 per square feet at Industrial Development Parks, regardless of their area’s market prices.

“At DDEC [Spanish acronym for Economic Development & Commerce Department], we are working so the Hydroponic Program becomes permanent to drive the growth of the agricultural industry and the export of our products harvested by experienced farmers, generating investment and job creation,” Laboy said.

CB reporter María Miranda contributed.

Federal Home Loan Bank of NY announces round of Affordable Housing Program grant funding

SAN JUAN – The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY) said it will begin accepting applications for its 2019 Round of Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grant funding on Feb. 25.

The grants are made in partnership with the FHLBNY’s member financial institutions, which number more than 32o across New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This year marks the 50th round of AHP grants, which has supported 1,833 projects with more than $740 million in AHP grants, “helping to create or preserve more than 85,000 units of affordable housing and generating an estimated $12 billion in total development costs,” the congressionally chartered, wholesale bank said in a release.

The FHLBNY also announced that its Homebuyer Dream Program, which will provide down-payment and closing cost assistance to low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers, is expected to launch in July.

The program will provide a maximum grant up to $15,000: up to $14,500 per household, with an additional $500 towards the defrayment of homeownership counseling costs.

The FHLBNY’s First Home ClubSM program will continue to disburse grants to enrolled households, but will stop accepting new enrollments March 30.

“Our housing mission is at the core of both our business and our culture, and is key to our strategy,” said José R. González, president and CEO of the FHLBNY. “The Affordable Housing Program and our homeownership programs are integral to this housing mission, and we look forward to working with our members and our local partners to ensure these programs are able to make a difference in communities across our region.”

The FHLBNY will hold training sessions on both the AHP and the Homebuyer Dream Program. A session in Puerto Rico is slated for March 26 in San Juan’s Popular Center.

More information on these training sessions, as well as dates, locations and registration information, is available at the following links:

AHP Training Sessions
Homebuyer Dream Program Training Sessions

University of Puerto Rico pays nearly $1.8 million to settle U.S. grant funds case

SAN JUAN – The the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) paid the U.S. Government last week $1,772,790 as part of a settlement agreement reached in connection to claims of misuse of grant funds provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The joint investigation revealed that the UPR did not comply with the time and effort reporting requirements of salaries and wages “to ensure that payroll for the various grants was correctly and appropriately charged for the 2011 calendar year,” according to a Justice Department release Thursday.

The UPR provided certifications asserting compliance with grant rules, “when in fact, their records failed to reconcile the budget amounts reported to NASA, DOE, and NSF,” Justice said.

Under the False Claims Act, the United States can recover up to three times the amount of loss and civil monetary penalties ranging from $5,500 to $11,000 per claim, in addition to debarment from future participation in federal funding.

“It is imperative that federal award recipients use grant money appropriately, and that they track and support their award expenditures using effective accounting systems and accurate time and effort reports,” NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner says in the release.

“The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to investigate grant fraud matters on both Criminal and Civil grounds and will aggressively pursue actions against those who submit false claims to the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.

The matter was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David O. Martorani-Dale, Affirmative Civil Enforcement Coordinator, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Hector E. Ramírez-Carbó, Chief of Civil Division.

FEMA approves additional $93 million in Public Assistance for Puerto Rico

To date, the FEMA Public Assistance program has committed nearly $2.7 billion in funding to the Government of Puerto Rico and its municipalities.

The agency defines emergency protective measures as “actions taken to eliminate or lessen immediate threats either to lives, public health or safety, or significant additional damage to public or private property in a cost-effective manner.”

The more than $80 million grant to the Puerto Rico Department of Education is to help “continue providing essential educational services to students in Puerto Rico.”

The more than $10.4 million grant awarded to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is for “protective measures related to the Guajataca Dam,” while nearly $2.5 million for Morovis is to “remove debris as a result of Hurricane Maria.”

FEMA approves additional $34 million in Public Assistance grants for Puerto Rico


USDA seeks applications for tech grants for healthcare and education

SAN JUAN – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for grants to use broadband e-Connectivity to improve access to health care and educational services in rural communities.

“Under Secretary Perdue’s leadership, USDA is tackling e-Connectivity as a foundational issue for rural communities because it affects everything from business opportunities to adequate health care access,” Hazlett said in the release. “These grants are one of many tools USDA provides to help ensure that people who live and work in rural areas can use broadband to gain access to essential services and economic opportunities.”

USDA’s Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, Josué E. Rivera, indicated that the agency is awarding grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program.

“This is a unique opportunity in Puerto Rico that we must not pass up after the devastation of the past hurricanes. These grants will help us obtain and provide essential services and bring economic prosperity to our communities,” said Rivera.

Proposals for projects whose primary purpose is to provide opioid prevention, treatment and recovery will receive 10 priority points when applications are scored, the release explains.  

Priority points will also be given for grants that offer access to science, technology, engineering and math courses. Grants are available to most state and local governmental entities, non-profit groups, for-profit businesses or consortia of these.

For additional information, see the Federal Register of April 3, page 14245 or contact Nereida Rodríguez, community program director at (787) 766-5158 or Miguel Ramírez, public affairs coordinator at Puerto Rico State Office at (787) 766-5708 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr .

University of Puerto Rico granted $70,000 for humanities projects

SAN JUAN — The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an independent federal agency, recently announced the awarding of $12.8 million to support 253 humanities projects across the United States.

Four million dollars in NEH fellowships and awards for faculty will support advanced research on topics such as the role of medieval hospitals as centers of religion, literature, and civic affairs; the activities of the U.S. Army during peacetime; and an effort to trace ancient economic networks by mapping the circulation of coins minted under Alexander the Great.

For the latter, Etienne Helmer, of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Río Piedras campus, was given a $33,600 faculty award for a project titled “Ancient Greek Philosophers on Economics,” which entails the preparation of a book-length study.

A $40,000 Digital Humanities Advancement Grant was also given to the UPR, for a project titled “Migration and the Caribbean Diaspora: A Panorama of Caribbean Carnival Practices.” Project Director Nadjah Rios-Villarini and co-project director Mirerza González-Vélez are  planning to explore migration and the Caribbean diaspora “through the lens of cultural practices” and will produce a website for public audiences and a white paper,” according to the NEH.

University of Puerto Rico reports significant damage in wake of María

The grants will also supplement private and public funding to underwrite a virtual exhibition of more than 90 pieces of New Deal art from the town of Gallup, New Mexico, the conservation of fragile books from the personal library of author C. S. Lewis, archival research for a book on the Nazi plunder of musical instruments and manuscripts during World War II, and hundreds of other projects.

NEH grants will expand the range of humanities-based resources and educational opportunities in underserved communities and institutions. Funded projects include the documentation of Blackfeet language and storytelling traditions for use in liberal arts courses at Blackfeet Community College in Montana, as well as the extension of an award-winning national family literacy program, Prime Time Family Reading, into Kentucky public schools.

The grants will enable production of an educational digital game for middle and high school students that explores the history of the ratification of the United States Constitution, and will fund the creation of an interactive mobile app that incorporates archival footage, maps, music, and interviews with historians to examine the impact of Reconstruction in South Carolina.

Other grants will provide for the development of a video-based web platform allowing scholars to publish papers in sign language, and a new tool that uses digital analysis of architectural floor plans to show how Frank Lloyd Wright’s structures changed over time.

Community digitization projects will preserve historic materials held by the congregations of African-American churches in Georgia and German-American heritage items from residents of 17 rural counties in Missouri. NEH On the Road grants will bring NEH-funded art exhibitions to small institutions in North Dakota, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

NEH funding also helps preserve important objects and collections representing America’s cultural heritage. A grant to researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois will enable development of conservation tools to monitor and prevent deterioration of oil paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe.

The 76 NEH Preservation Assistance Grants will help the Knoxville Jewish Alliance protect archives documenting the history of Jewish culture in the South and will preserve the U.S.’s maritime past at the State University of New York, Maritime College.


USDA helps communities restore water systems damaged by hurricane

SAN JUAN – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Monday two grants awarded to help rural water and sewer utilities recover from recent and future natural disasters.

Luis R. García-Boria, USDAs’ rural development acting state director for Puerto Rico, explained that the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) each received a $500,000 grant. The funding is being provided through the Water and Waste Disposal Technical Assistance and Training Grant program in USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Programs (WEP)

NRWA and RCAP will use the grants to provide training and technical assistance, onsite repairs and utility management advice for rural water and sewer utilities that serve communities with fewer than 10,000 people. The assistance is intended to help these small utilities recover faster and enable first responders, citizens and businesses to have clean water.

USDA provides over $10M to help Caribbean farmers recover after hurricanes

“USDA is a strong partner in the long-term recovery of rural communities after a season of devastating hurricanes,” Perdue said. “These grants will provide resources to rural communities to assess damage, develop rebuilding plans and get access to technical assistance and clean water. USDA is standing with these affected communities every step of the way.”

The grants also will be used to help rural utilities apply for Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) disaster programs, file insurance recovery claims, “and strengthen operations and continuity of service plans in times of emergencies. Technical assistance will include assisting new and returning Rural Development WEP funding recipients to prepare applications for water and waste disposal loans and grants and other financing options to supplement their needs,” the agency’s release reads.

For additional information, call 787-766-5708 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr.

Report: China catching up to US in foreign aid flow

A Chinese man repairs a security camera near the logo of the China-Africa summit meeting on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan,File)

BEIJING — China is close to matching the United States as a source of official grants and loans to developing countries, but much of Beijing’s financing serves its own economic interests and yields scant benefits for recipients, a multinational group of researchers reported Wednesday.

The research by AidData, a lab at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, is the most extensive effort yet to measure official financing by China, which releases few details of its aid flows. That has spurred concern about Beijing’s intentions as it tries to expand its global influence to match China’s status as the world’s second-largest economy.

China gave or lent $354.4 billion in the 15 years ending in 2014 in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, compared with $394.6 billion for the United States, according to AidData. It released a database of Chinese financing, assembled from thousands of sources of information, and a study on its impact by scholars from Harvard University, Germany’s Heidelberg University and William & Mary.

“At the very top level, you could say the U.S. and China are now spending rivals when it comes to their financial transfers to other countries,” said AidData’s executive director, Bradley C. Parks.

China’s secretiveness about its spending has fueled complaints its aid might prop up corrupt regimes or undercut environmental and human rights standards Western donors are trying to enforce.

Attention to Chinese financing has increased as Beijing promotes its “Belt and Road Initiative,” a multibillion-dollar initiative to expand China’s trade links with Asia, Africa and the Middle East by building ports, roads and other facilities.

About 23 percent of Chinese spending met the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s definition of aid, or “official development assistance,” which requires at least 25 percent of a transfer to be a grant. By contrast, 93 percent of U.S. spending qualifies as aid.

The bulk of Beijing’s financing appears to be export credits and other measures aimed at promoting Chinese exports or other goals, which produced little measurable growth in recipient economies, according to Parks. He said such “official finance” doesn’t count as development assistance but is part of the OECD’s broader definition of aid.

“The lion’s share of the portfolio is really not delivering, at least on average, any significant economic growth benefits for its partner countries,” said Parks.

That leaves Beijing room to have a positive impact by shifting spending to development assistance, he said.

“There still is a lot of scope for them to learn and adapt,” said Parks.

The portion of Chinese financing that qualifies as aid “substantially improves economic growth,” according to the report. It said results were comparable to the impact of U.S.- and other Western-financed projects.

“I thought that was a pretty important finding and an encouraging one,” said Parks.

The 5-year-old project used a computerized system to look for information from more than 15,000 sources including news reports, Chinese government offices, ministries of other countries and academic reports. Its data cover 4,304 projects in 138 countries and territories.

China doesn’t participate in global aid reporting systems. It released some figures in 2011 and 2014 but gave few details and none about individual countries.

AidData released its first report in 2013 focusing on Chinese financing to Africa. Parks said its data have been used by other scholars to launch more than 100 research projects.

“AidData is the most comprehensive source of information on China’s lending for development projects,” said David Dollar, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington and former World Bank country director in Beijing, in an email.

“The data show that China’s lending is indiscriminate with respect to governance. Some big borrowers have poor rule of law, such as Venezuela, Angola and Pakistan,” Dollar wrote. “The overall pattern of lending indicates that it is demand-driven by which countries want to borrow rather than by a Chinese master plan.”

Parks said the data show more Chinese finance goes to countries that vote with Beijing at the United Nations. He said that “might not look good,” but a similar analysis of U.S. and other Western donors shows they act the same way.

“In a sense, Beijing has taken a page out of the playbook of traditional Western donors,” said Parks. “That doesn’t comport with the ‘rogue donor’ narrative that China is somehow inferior or different.”

Parks said the project didn’t try to measure whether Chinese aid undercuts environmental or other standards by giving an alternative to more stringent conditions on Western aid.

But a separate study published this year by researcher Diego Hernandez of Heidelberg found the World Bank attached “significantly fewer conditions” to loans if recipients also had aid available from China.

“New donors might be perceived as an attractive financial option to which the World Bank reacts by offering credits less restrictively in order to remain competitive,” wrote Hernandez.

USDA Announces Grants to Create Jobs and Grow Economic Opportunity

SAN JUAN – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA is awarding $7.6 million in grants to support projects that will grow rural opportunity through job training and economic development. The grants will support communities in 24 states and Puerto Rico, with several projects spanning communities in multiple states.

“These awards will help bolster local and regional food systems, tap into the tourism potential that proximity to America’s beautiful natural resources provides, and help individuals learn new job skills. All these effort are part of USDA’s strategy for a strong rural economy and will help to sustain the recovery that we have begun to see in our smallest towns,” Vilsack said in a release Thursday.

USDA_logoThe funding is being awarded through the Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grants (SDGG) and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) Programs.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, indicated that RCAP Solutions Inc. is receiving a $244,831 RCDI grant to help 14 recipient communities in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico to implement Geographic Information Systems mapping. In Puerto Rico, Barros ward in the municipality of Orocovis and Capitanejo ward of in the municipality of Juana Díaz respectively will receive this assistance.

The “Cooperativa de Agricultores del Suroeste” is receiving a $130,775 SDGG grant to provide technical assistance to a group of socially disadvantaged individual farmers and farmer cooperatives within the municipalities of Lajas and Las Marías.

The SDGG program provides technical assistance to cooperatives and other organizations that help socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Examples of technical assistance include leadership training, conducting feasibility studies, and developing business and strategic plans.

For additional information about the SDGG program, contact Danna Quiles, Business & Cooperative Program director at the Puerto Rico State Office at (787) 766-5355, 766-5363, 766-5379 or 766-5412. For the RCDI program, contact Nereida Rodríguez at (787) 766-5144 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr .