Coamo: Housing Dept. continues delays in issuance of funds to rebuild hurricane-damaged structures

By The Star Staff

Thousands of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reconstruction projects to repair and rebuild structures damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 could be stalled in Puerto Rico unless the island Housing Department stops delaying payments to municipalities of the 10% of costs covered by Non-Federal Matching Program funds, Coamo Mayor Juan Carlos García Padilla warned Thursday.

FEMA funds reconstruction projects through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program.

García Padilla said FEMA approves 90% of the reconstruction costs of the damaged facilities and the municipalities pay the remaining 10% with their funds or through the Housing Department matching program, better known as the Non-Federal Matching Program, created to help the mayors complete the costs of projects that, otherwise, they would not be able to carry out.

“In Coamo alone there are 178 projects claimed to FEMA that were damaged by Hurricane Maria for a total of $75 million,” the mayor said in a written statement. “In each of these, FEMA contributes 90% of the costs and already has obligated funds for 137 of the projects pending the disbursement of the 10% share.”

Of the 137 projects, the Housing Department pre-qualified 92 projects for the 10% payment but has not issued payments.

“Due to the slowness of the process, we began to use municipal funds, but the money is running out and the program has not disbursed a single penny,” García Padilla said. “Our call is for the process to be streamlined so that the money reaches Coamo, the other municipalities and the reconstruction work from Irma and Maria can be completed in four years.”

Although Coamo has signed an agreement with the Housing Department, has completed the training, has submitted its projects and a large number -- 92 -- were approved, the central government agency still has not made the money available for the reconstruction to be completed. The 10% of the $75 million in projects is equal to about $7.5 million pending processing only in the case of Coamo.

“The Municipality of Coamo already has invested $350,000 in payments of the 10% share for projects. These are funds that we have obligated or committed that cannot be touched and that the government had to reimburse,” García Padilla said. “If the FEMA time limit is met and the municipalities cannot obligate the 10%, the whole process stops and it will be necessary to request extensions of time. We are running out of liquidity to continue contributing to projects in which the Housing Department issues CDBG-DR funds.”

At the moment, García Padilla said he did not know the reason for the agency’s delay in expediting payments. He estimated that there are still 45 projects not evaluated by the Housing Department that are waiting to be approved for the Non-Federal Matching Program of CDBG-DR funds.

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