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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor asks Congress to consolidate Maria, Fiona hurricane aid, boost funding levels

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia has asked U.S. congressional leaders to consolidate hurricane disaster recovery aid into a single federal award and to grant Puerto Rico more federal funding, a letter notes.

The letter was sent Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The governor notes that as Congress and the administration work on a potential disaster relief and supplemental appropriations package for fiscal year 2022, lawmakers should provide similar relief to the one provided by Congress in the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act in response to the devastation of hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.

The letter seeks changes to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and other actions that would help facilitate administrative efficiency in the recovery from Hurricane Fiona in September of this year similar to the recovery process of Hurricane Maria.

“To consolidate both disasters, Section 428 public assistance program alternative procedures (PAAP) (42 U.S.C. 5189f) of the Stafford Act will need to be amended to allow obligated projects, with agreed fixed cost estimates, to be versioned to include damages caused by Fiona,” Pierluisi said in the letter. “In addition, we reiterate our request that section 428 PAAP-obligated projects under Maria (DR-4339-PR) be amended to allow versions to accommodate any impacts due to inflation, construction material cost increases, and labor shortages, among others.”

“This is vital because many facilities that have not been fully repaired or replaced following Hurricane Maria may have further deteriorated since Hurricane Fiona,” the governor added. “Therefore, limiting FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] assistance based on the pre-disaster condition of a facility for Hurricane Fiona is likely to be restrictive.”

Pierluisi also requested that 100% federal cost share be provided for all consolidated Maria and Fiona permanent work projects.

The governor asked the federal government to allow the implementation of FEMA’s Disaster Flexible Match (DFM) Program to alleviate administrative burden and avoid the projected grant deadline-related challenges of its Public Assistance Program (PA).

“Similar to the global match process for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the DFM Program for the PA program will allow the non-federal cost share to be based on a percentage of a disaster’s overall obligation instead of on a per project basis,” he said.

Regarding housing, Pierluisi said that similar to Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding for hurricanes Irma and Maria, housing assistance due to Hurricane Fiona should be broader than just rehabilitation, reconstruction or relocation.

“Following the same percent distribution as in the current CDBG-DR Action Plan, PRDOH [the island Housing Department] requests an additional $414 million for other housing assistance needs arising from Hurricane Fiona,” the governor said.

Pierluisi also asked for changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“We are very grateful for the EITC support that was enacted in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which contemplated a $600 million federal contribution to a Puerto Rico EITC program that was estimated to cost $800 million a year; that is, a federal contribution of 75% for the program. These funds have been very helpful in bringing working families out of poverty,” he said. “However, the actual program cost has amounted to approximately $1.05 billion rather than $800 million, for which a federal contribution of 75% would be $787 million, $187 million more than was contemplated in the ARPA. An adjustment to the federal contribution to 75% of actual program costs would help Puerto Rico to extend this very valuable benefit to working families residing on the island and would contribute to its overall economic recovery. We therefore request your consideration of this matter.”

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