Governor announces effort to streamline emergency funds

By John McPhaul

In an effort to reduce the bureaucratic processes related to reconstruction projects under the funds allocated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, along with Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3) Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy Rivera, announced changes to streamline grant review procedures for grant funds requests.

Included in Monday’s announcement were changes to streamline the process for advances of federal funds for immediate expenses.

Pierluisi also provided an update on allocated federal funds disbursed in Puerto Rico.

FEMA has obligated $23.7 billion in funds for emergencies and permanent works involving 7,612 projects. Of this amount, the island government has disbursed $4.2 billion.

“Puerto Rico must receive close to $72 billion in funds related to hurricanes, both from FEMA, a product of the Federal Stafford Act, which finances disaster-related projects in the United States and its territories, as well as through of the CDBG-DR [Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery] program, as assigned by Congress to the federal Department of Housing,” the governor said, adding that the island Housing Department has managed to double the number of obligations and disbursements since January.

“Now under the new reimbursement policy, disbursements for projects of reconstruction under development by municipalities, government agencies and non-profit organizations will be faster,” the governor said. “In turn, the [new policy] will allow them to be realized with faster recovery work from the disasters of Irma, Maria, earthquakes and COVID-19.”

The governor noted that with the proposed changes to the reimbursement processes, what took an average of 240 days now will take 60 days. Also, eight complicated steps were reduced to four simple steps and sub-recipients may request more than one refund at once, which was not allowed before.

Another improvement is that COR3 will internally evaluate the Requests for Advancement (RFAs), to carry out disbursements within a 21-day period, as steps are reduced from six to three. Before, the process took months.

Among the main challenges that delayed the execution of reconstruction projects, Laboy Rivera said, were that some disbursements corresponding to the payment out of 75%, took an average of 88 days to complete. Duplication of efforts in the processes has also been a problem, since multiple analysts evaluated the RFA, he added.

“We recognize the need to act quickly in these cases, that is why we established a streamlined approval process with just four steps instead of eight,” the COR3 chief said.

“What’s more, [the process] allows recipients the ability to submit multiple refund requests simultaneously, which will be evaluated by a single analyst, and the disbursement must take a maximum of 60 days. Another improvement in these processes is that they will be more efficient and accessible. … The implementation of the new refund policies will be effective as of June 29.”

Pierluisi also announced that he signed an executive order to create a committee for the evaluation of projects presented to the Investment Portfolio Program (IPG by its Spanish initials) in Economic Development under CDBG-DR.

The committee will be tasked with determining the methods of submission of eligible project proposals, eligibility criteria, evaluation criteria and awarding of projects, among other responsibilities.

The IPG has an allocated budget of $800 million in CDBG-DR funds.

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