Gov’t redistributes up to $1B in disaster relief funds for island mayors

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and Housing Secretary-designate William Rodríguez Rodríguez announced Tuesday the redistribution of Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief funds from the City Revitalization Program so that municipalities in Puerto Rico will have access to a greater amount of funds, as well as an additional allocation of $10 million for administrative expenses and the streamlining of purchasing processes.

Pierluisi said the increase in the allocation to island towns from $600 million to $1 billion was achieved by way of the elimination of the distribution of funds by rounds, which, he said, simplifies the process and provides access to the totality of the program’s funds.

“Faced with the calls by several municipal executives to receive and manage the funds of this program effectively, we requested that an in-depth analysis be made, in order to regenerate a distribution that would promote quick and efficient revitalizations for our municipalities and their residents,” the governor said. “I appreciate the work of the Housing [Department] team to make this effort a reality and continue the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.”

Rodríguez Rodríguez noted that “since we began our work in the department, we have been focused on evaluating all the processes to make them agile and efficient.”

“Today, we achieved a greater allocation to the municipalities under the City Revitalization Program, so that they can continue the reconstruction process of the island, and we have also made the purchasing process more flexible to help the municipalities,” the designated Housing chief said.

Following widespread complaints from various island mayors about the review processes in the purchasing and procurement steps, Rodríguez Rodríguez said he eliminated by administrative order the mandatory review requirement, allowing the municipalities to streamline the process. However, a municipality may carry out the review process if it is in its interest to do so.

When asked about the formula used to allocate the disaster relief funds to each municipality, the Housing secretary-designate said there were around seven factors to be considered in order to distribute the money.

He said “50% of the funds are distributed in a lump sum,” while the other 50% considers some factors such as “poverty level, the number of people who are 65 years and older, unemployment, bodies of water in the municipality, [how much, if any] coastal zone [in] the municipality, [and] damages suffered by Hurricane Maria.”

In case the announcement might have sounded familiar to some islanders, a member of the press asked what the difference was between this funding allocation and others announced before. Pierluisi said “what is different from the announcements you mentioned before is that I was not there.”

“We must be reminded here that I made the commitment to the people that we were going to act with a sense of urgency, and we are doing so,” the governor said. “We said we were going to be accessible to every mayor, and we are doing so. We said that we were going to decentralize and municipalize services that towns can conduct, and we are doing so. I even signed an agreement with both [Puerto Rico Mayors Association and Puerto Rico Mayors Federation] presidents [Luis Javier Hernández and Ángel Pérez Otero, respectively]. We are making a difference, but what you said, I understand it.”

Also, as for oversight to prevent corruption from happening, Pierluisi said “the federal government is keeping an eye on every mayor as to how the funds are being used.”

Among other announcements, Pierluisi said the $10 million allocated to the towns for administrative expenses may be used to hire specialized professional services such as lawyers, engineers and planners, among others, to help the municipalities in their recovery efforts.

Likewise, an additional allocation of $42.5 million each was reported for the municipalities of San Juan and Mayagüez, in order to promote economic recovery in areas surrounding the University of Puerto Rico campuses in each of those two cities.

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