Memories of surviving Hurricane Maria still haunt the people of Puerto Rico four years after the storm devastated US territory on September 20, 2017.
There are memories of the destruction with thousands of houses, many of which are still covered in blue tarpaulin and still need to be repaired. Constant power outages remind Puerto Ricans that the essential work to modernize the outdated power grid that was decimated by Maria has not yet begun. Decaying school buildings, roads, bridges, and even health care facilities indicate a slow rebuilding process that has not yet picked up speed.
A new analysis by the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rico-based, non-partisan think tank, argues that post-hurricane reconstruction is only one of three â€œsystemic shocksâ€ – along with the Covid-19 pandemic and decades of financial crisis a challenge for Puerto Rico.
With regard to reconstruction, the analysis found that some of the most important work, including “containment measures to increase resilience and reduce risk exposure of vulnerable populations”, has not yet started.
â€œIf a category one hurricane hits the island today, it will not survive. The power grid will not survive, “MP Nydia VelÃ¡zquez, DN.Y., said during a press conference on Monday hosted by the Hispanic Federation to commemorate the approximately 3,000 lives killed in Hurricane Maria.
“Puerto Ricans experience blackouts almost every day, and every single one of those blackouts takes them back to the unforgettable September 2017,” said the Puerto Rican congresswoman. “Thousands of blue tarpaulin houses. This is what happens in America.”
Hurricane Maria left $ 90 billion in damage and Congress allocated at least $ 63 billion for disaster relief and reconstruction efforts. Four years later, about 71 percent of this money did not reach the communities of the island archipelago. Puerto Rico has received approximately $ 18 billion, according to FEMA’s Recovery Support Function Leadership Group.
“When we invest in upgrading and modernizing our American infrastructure system, we need to make sure we do it everywhere and in every community,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., said at the press conference along with VelÃ¡zquez to ensure that the needs are met of Puerto Rico on the agenda for better reconstruction and that our infrastructure investments meet the greatest needs. “
According to Sergio Marxuach, CNE’s political director and author of the analysis, the financial regulator and board of directors that oversee Puerto Rico’s finances have announced that the remaining bulk of the reconstruction aid will be paid out after fiscal 2025.
Created during the Obama administration under the Promesa Act 2016, the federal treasury is responsible for restructuring Puerto Rico’s $ 72 billion national debt after US laws arbitrarily excluded US territory from federal bankruptcy law. This has led to tough austerity measures as Puerto Rico tries to stimulate its economic growth.
The precarious financial situation became more complicated as worsening crises such as a series of devastating earthquakes in early 2020 followed by the Covid-19 pandemic made life difficult for the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans who live in the area.
So far, Puerto Rico has made up for about two-thirds of the economic losses as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Marxuach said it was important to remain cautious about the relatively quick recovery, as it was largely due to a recent injection of pandemic federal aid.
“It is worrying that short-term economic growth depends largely on receiving federal transfers that we do not control,” Marxuach said in the report. “We fear these spending will have temporary positive economic effects that could hamper efforts.” Develop a medium / long-term economic strategy or plan for Puerto Rico. “
Puerto Rico is expected to receive $ 43.5 billion in federal aid related to Covid-19 through fiscal 2023, according to the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of state national organizations, is urging the federal government to address the structural factors that are holding back short and long-term recovery. They call for the infrastructure of the US territory to be strengthened, debt to be written off as part of the restructuring process, and transparency and accountability to be increased.
The coalition calls on President Joe Biden and his administration to address the issues he promised during his campaign.
According to an upcoming factsheet authored by Power 4 Puerto Rico and pre-screened to NBC News, Biden has kept some of the campaign’s promises, including releasing previously stalled hurricane aid and resuscitating a White House task force in Puerto Rico to rebuild the island.
But he has yet to order a review of the federal finance council’s fiscal austerity policy to which he has pledged, as well as support a review of Puerto Rico’s debts and ensure the collection funds go to benefit local businesses.
The federal finance committee is promoting structural reforms for Puerto Rico in key areas such as welfare, energy and business facilitation, “which it estimates will have a cumulative positive impact of 0.75% of GDP by fiscal year 2026”. said Marxuach in the report.
However, Marxuach points out that “however, it is unclear whether the Puerto Rico government will be able to implement these guidelines” and whether they will have the economic impact projected by the board of directors.
“We need the resources to build houses, build roads, provide services and rebuild the health system,” said Rafael “Tatito” HernÃ¡ndez, spokesman for the local legislature of Puerto Rico, during the press conference on Monday. “How should we work if we don’t have the certainty … We don’t know if we will have electricity in our house when we come back from work.”
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