Washington Watch – Spotlight on Puerto Rico: Governor Ricardo Rosselló Pursues More Help from Congress

By Jennice Fuentes / Fuentes Strategies

Governor Ricardo Rosselló sent a letter to Congressional leaders requesting additional billions in federal funding. In the letter, the Governor listed his priorities for the lame-duck Congressional session and requested an additional disaster appropriation of $600 million for the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) and another $3.2 billion for Medicaid.

In his letter to Congressional leadership, Rosselló reiterated claims that Puerto Rico should be exempt from matching funds requirements for federal programs associated with the removal of debris and other emergency tasks due to natural disasters. The Governor also sought to extend the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to families in Puerto Rico with one or two children, to extend the availability of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to Puerto Rico, and to include critical areas of the Island that were excluded from the Opportunity Zones program.

DNC Members to Meet on the Island

The Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will meet on December 1st in San Juan, in what will be its first meeting since the November election. Separately, the conclave of the Association of State Democratic Committees will also take place on the Island on November 29th and 30th. The leadership of the DNC, headed by its Chairman, Tom Pérez, is expected to arrive in celebratory atmosphere after Democrats won the House majority with a gain of at least 39 additional seats, and seven state governorships.

At the local level, the Chairman of the U.S. Democratic Party in Puerto Rico, Charlie Rodríguez, hopes that the DNC leadership will support the allocation of new funds for the reconstruction of the Island, especially amid reports that President Donald Trump wants to block new funds.

FEMA Contractors Charging Extremely Steep Markups for Puerto Rico Repairs

Juan F. Rodríguez’s home, located in northeastern Puerto Rico, suffered substantial damage due to Hurricane Maria. He was told that FEMA would pay for up to $5,000 in repairs, but believes he received a fraction of that from his FEMA contractor, and he is not alone.

According to a recent New York Times Report, extravagant markups and multiple levels of middlemen have helped to run up costs in the FEMA-financed repair program known as Tu Hogar Renace—Your Home Reborn—the largest emergency housing program in the agency’s history. The program has allocated $1.2 billion to repair up to 120,000 homes, but less than 40% of funding is going towards roofs, windows or doors, according to NYT’s report.

A local opposition legislator, Luis Vega Ramos, called the housing program, which is operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing with FEMA funding, a mixture of “incompetence and corruption.” He called for federal investigators to examine the contracts to make sure the government was getting what it paid for.

On the other hand, Puerto Rico housing officials viewed it differently, claiming to be proud of the repair program and that prices were in many cases less than those paid in other disasters, including repairs after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Virgin Islands with similar transport challenges. Even Michael Byrne, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for Puerto Rico, claimed that the housing department had done an impressive job of getting homes repaired quickly for people who had nowhere else to turn.

Congressional Hearings of Interest:

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