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Puerto Rico sees more pain and little progress three years after Hurricane Maria

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown, who was named the White House special representative for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery this year, said the efforts have been going on for months and are unrelated. to the political calendar of the election.

“Developing this estimate has been a lengthy process, and our goal has always been to get this announcement out as quickly as possible. We’ve literally been working on it for months,” Brown said.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had previously approved $20 billion for the island’s reconstruction, a historic amount. But the agency has knowingly blocked the release of help last year to impose additional restrictions and demands on how Puerto Rico could access the funds, citing issues of corruption and financial mismanagement.

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Highest-profile public corruption case involving disaster recovery funds involved federal employees — two FEMA officials who have been charged with fraud and corruption surrounding $1.8 billion in contracts to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid.

“There have always been concerns about the Puerto Rico government’s ability to effectively manage a level of money that greatly exceeds their normal annual operating budgets,” Brown said. But he said he remains confident the money will flow in a timely manner and with proper oversight, as relations between local and federal governments have “improved significantly over the past year”, he said. -he declares.

Soto-Class said, “But you have to have oversight that works. It can’t be punishment disguised as oversight.”

Elizabeth Parilla feeds her pets outside her damaged home in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017.Victor J. Blue/Photos Redux

Puerto Rico’s first major program to rebuild homes didn’t finish a single oneeven though tens of thousands of homes still have damaged roofs, many of which are still covered with blue tarps. The program, known as R3, which is funded by HUDis the local government’s biggest effort to make major repairs.

“Recovered as they could”

Perez was one of many Puerto Ricans who took breaks from their day jobs to “basically become a carpenter for a year” and to join churches and other groups working to rebuild people’s roofs.

“Those who lost their homes three years ago recovered as best they could. Many then experienced the earthquakes, and many more lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” Perez said. “You have so many struggling families, and it’s hard to stay optimistic, even when the authorities are announcing large sums of money, because we know the money will be stuck in a bank account somewhere for a long time while people suffer.”

Image: Floods in San Juan
A man stands on a car on a flooded street after Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Nearly 27,000 homeowners have applied for R3 assistance since some federal funding to run the program was released a year and a half ago. Puerto Rican officials said they were nearly done repairing the first 45 homes that would benefit from the program, but no reconstruction work has yet been completed.

Last month, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor Recognized that the only hospital on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques has not been rebuilt since its destruction in 2017. The agency earned $39.5 million available to Vieques to rebuild the hospital in January.

At the same time that the federal government has been slow to make stimulus funds available, the Puerto Rican government has also been slow to spend the funds already disbursed.

“It’s up to us,” Soto-Class said, “although not completely up to us, because there are also a lot of restrictions for funds, but a lot of it is up to us.” Some of the Puerto Rican government’s failures can be traced to years of federally imposed austerity measures that led to the “institutional collapse” of government agencies critical to recovery, he said.

“If we keep doing it like we’ve been doing, it’s going to be impossible,” Soto-Class said. “It’s not going to happen, and that’s what we’ve seen over the last three years, very little movement.”

The island’s 3.2 million Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the presidential election, but they will elect their governor and other local leaders on November 3. On the same day, Puerto Ricans who have moved to the continental United States will vote in the presidential election.

“There is a new discourse on the island ahead of the election,” Perez said. “People are ready to elect leaders willing to treat Puerto Rico humanely.”

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CORRECTION (September 20, 2020, 9:55 p.m. ET): A photo caption in an earlier version of this article was incorrect when Elizabeth Parilla was photographed feeding her pets. The photo was taken in September 2017, not this month.

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