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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With waiver, island houses of worship gain access to recovery funds

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón announced Tuesday the publication of a waiver approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that expands the use of emergency funds from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program for houses of worship on the island, under the Non-Federal Match Program and administered by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing.

The waiver, approved exclusively for Puerto Rico and which González Colón and several of her colleagues in Congress have been working on since 2021, would support the religious sector by expanding its access to emergency funds for infrastructure repairs needed in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The houses of faith, which are mostly churches, served as a great help in their communities before, during and after the hurricanes, the resident commissioner pointed out. Many lent their facilities to provide shelter to citizens, store and distribute supplies, as well as disseminate information in their municipalities. However, HUD conditions the use of funds to finance projects that include areas explicitly used for religious purposes. This regulation restricts the use of CDBG-DR funds for the Non-Federal Match Program, which helps cover matching expenses for FEMA’s public assistance programs.

“Churches, as well as other houses of faith, are always a great support during periods of emergency on the island. We’ve seen it with disasters of all kinds, including Irma and Maria,” González Colón said. “Now they are the ones who were waiting for concrete actions from their government, as is the federal government, to have access to funds that allow the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their structures, which were also damaged as a result of the hurricanes. That’s why, along with my colleagues in Congress and in my many conversations with HUD leadership, including former Secretary Marcia Fudge, I advocated countless times for the passage of this waiver. Our communities need these spaces and this serves grassroots organizations as a tool to continue serving the people with safe and resilient structures.”

The Non-Federal Matching Program has funds that exceed $868 million and allows, within federal regulations and in alignment with the national recovery objective, matching costs established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that are covered using CDBG-DR funds.

The program can be a source of relief for eligible applicants who require FEMA assistance but are limited in participating because they are unable to cover matching expenses. Houses of prayer are among those groups, and due to HUD regulatory limitations on participation, many were unable to access funding through the program.

The waiver would allow access to be expanded and cover matching expenses under FEMA’s public assistance program, after meeting the program’s other eligibility requirements.

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