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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

González Colón proposes to enhance use of federal funds, increase transparency

Jenniffer González Colón (Facebook)

By The Star Staff

Gubernatorial primary candidate and current Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón on Wednesday introduced proposals to enhance the use of federal funds in Puerto Rico.

Federal funds support much of Puerto Rico’s budget; expenses such as payroll, citizenship programs, and non-governmental organizations depend on that money. However, notes González Colón, there has been a drop in government approvals and grant applications, and billions in lost allocations have been reported.

“Having to return unused, misused, poorly documented, or unrequested federal funds affects future opportunities to obtain more funds,” she said. “Furthermore, it robs our citizens of the opportunities for which those funds were granted.”

The challenger of incumbent Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia in the New Progressive Party primary identified two predominant factors that hamper the ability to raise federal funds. First, she said the lack of specialized personnel in some agencies results in low participation in the search for funds. Additionally, the lack of visibility limits the ability to monitor the use and reimbursement of federal funds effectively.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OGP by its Spanish initials), 42% of the approved budget for the current fiscal year (FY) 2024 is made up of federal funds. Although federal funds are greater than in last year’s budget, this increase is possible thanks to congressional action, where greater funds have been allocated for block or formula items, not due to an increase in applications for federal programs.

In FY 2024, Puerto Rico has received fewer federal funding obligations than in previous years, as can be corroborated on the federal government’s digital platform, González Colón pointed out.

Comparing the number of grants obtained by the agencies whose accounts are managed at the island Treasury, a notable decrease is seen from 515 total grants and 405 competitive grants in 2021 to 313 total grants and 244 competitive grants in 2024, the candidate noted. Specifically, the Department of Health fell from 61 competitive grants in 2021 to 31 in 2024 and, in that same term, the Department of Education fell from 32 to 13 competitive grants.

The decline is mainly due to the fact that many agencies have closed their federal funds offices, no longer have personnel specialized in federal funds, or have contracted federal funds to third parties who don’t have the knowledge necessary to be effective.

Then-governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares created the Center for Federal Opportunities, which the subsequent administration of Wanda Vázquez Garced transferred to the OGP and renamed the Office of Federal Funds. The change hindered the office’s operations, said González Colón, who proposes expanding it and returning it to La Fortaleza.

González Colón also proposes the creation of the Office of Training and Support in Federal Funds (OCAF), which would be attached to the Office of the Governor, to identify federal opportunities and train personnel in agencies and municipalities to request federal funds, improve compliance with federal programs, and increase renewals of awarded funds.

As the responsibilities of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), which Gonzalez Colon said she will eliminate, and the island Housing Department (CDBG-DR funds) related to natural disasters begin to diminish, there will be a source of highly qualified people, the candidate noted.

“We will help agencies and municipalities regain the expertise to effectively apply for and manage federal funds,” González Colón said. “We estimate that, in the first two years, OCAF will help generate more than $40 million in new federal funds to increase the operational budgets of the entities so that they can provide more services to the population.”

Nonprofit entities, including community or faith-based entities, will be similarly assisted in the federal funding application processes, for which the federal program administration item would be charged to cover the costs of the service, she added.

“OCAF will not be a COR3, which hijacks federal funds and delays the process for recipients,” González Colón said. “This is an office to promote and increase the capacity of different entities to successfully request, obtain and manage federal funds. It will be a support, not an obstacle.”

Agencies’ organizational laws will be reviewed to ensure they have the legal authority to access federal funds, she said.

Between FY 2020 and FY 2023, over $8.26 billion in federal funds assigned to the agencies whose accounts are managed at the Treasury was left over, the candidate said. Of that sum, nearly $4.32 billion corresponded to expired subsidies; that is, for which the term granted by the source federal agency to spend the funds had expired.

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