Governor delivers recovery status report to US Congress
By John McPhaul
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced Wednesday the delivery of the fourth Congressional Status Report on the Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan to the U.S. Congress detailing the island’s progress in recovery efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As required by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, P.L. 115-123, the island government provides Congress periodic updates on the recovery of Puerto Rico from hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.
“When I took my oath as Governor of Puerto Rico, I swore to stand with our people and do everything in my power to expedite the recovery efforts from the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria,” Vázquez said. “My priority was that every person who was affected and harmed by these hurricanes would have their unmet needs met. Despite the challenges we have confronted during this past year, we have emerged stronger and made significant strides toward our island’s recovery. Today, I can proudly say that we are building a better, stronger, and more resilient Puerto Rico.”
In the written communication, delivered to Congressional Leadership by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), the governor highlighted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) collaboration with the commonwealth’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3) and government officials on the island as essential to the significant progress made toward recovery.
The island government has received support from FEMA, which has aided in expediting the pace of the island’s recovery by making strides toward the obligation of funds. The letter highlights that the island has surpassed the performance achieved in the initial 18 months after the disaster by reaching several milestones.
* Currently, 2,056 projects have been obligated with a total amount of $654,726,905 associated funds, and project obligations increased from 10-15 projects per month to 550 projects over the past year.
* The federal government has provided more than $25 billion toward response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, and $7.5 billion has been approved under FEMA’s Public Assistance program, out of which COR3 has disbursed $4.3 billion.
* The projections of FEMA and COR3 indicate that by December 2020, around 50-60 percent of projects and 60-70 percent of the total cost will be awarded.
COR3 Executive Director Ottmar Chávez Piñero said “the acceleration of projects, obligations and disbursements, and the reduction of administrative costs, among other achievements, allow this generation to witness how Puerto Rico will be able to get back on its feet, while allowing Puerto Ricans to be part of its reconstruction.”
The governor added that “[i]t is worth noting that all of these important milestones were accomplished despite the ongoing earthquakes that continue to impact our island on a daily basis and the social distancing requirements and intermittent islandwide lockdowns required to protect the health of our population amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“While it has not been easy and the circumstances have been challenging, I have never been prouder of our people, their spirit, and our ability to come together and face these challenges headstrong and emerge stronger than ever,” Vázquez said.
Jennifer M. Storipan, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, highlighted the island government’s achievements over the past year “despite the challenging circumstances we have faced.”
“As Puerto Rico continued to recover from the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, earlier this year, the island was impacted by thousands of earthquakes that today continue to affect our island. We are also battling with the biggest pandemic of our century, the COVID-19 virus,” she said. “With so many competing priorities, it is easy to forget that we are still in a recovery phase. However, these milestones have been accomplished because the Governor has restored the island’s credibility in Washington, D.C., and we have an excellent working relationship with the federal agencies. As we continue with our recovery efforts, I know that our work, coupled with our people’s resiliency, will help us build a better Puerto Rico.”