Expressions of the United States Office of Management and Budget regarding disaster relief and nutrition assistance funds for Puerto Rico –approved by Congress should be clarified in an open and constructive dialogue between Trump Administration, the government of Puerto Rico and those allies the island has in the newly-inaugurated Congress. A $600 million package to ensure the continuity of emergency funds granted through the Nutrition Assistance Program, for individuals and families seriously affected by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, is still pending.
The first $1.27 billion, allocated in temporary PAN benefits after the 2017 disaster, could lapse in March. This emergency benefit has served 279,000 new participants affected by the storm. Regularly, PAN has served around 1.3 million people on the island. Likewise, the release of about $ 20 billion allocated through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program is delayed. These funds are essential to repair damaged homes and communities, among other works. These drawbacks to Puerto Rico´s access to federal financial aid -that the island clearly needs- join those strict requirements set for the island to receive reconstruction funds after the hurricane. It is not the first time that the island faces criticism over lack of transparency and accountability. In the past, these criticisms led the island to lose its credit capacity and the confidence of the markets as well.
Therefore, the commitment of Puerto Rican authorities to use federal and local resources properly must be firm and verifiable. It is up to the government to open all possible ways to access those funds through guarantees and compliance that will enable the island to regain trust. At the same time, it will be important to dispel doubts remaining in Washington over the need for those funds. It is wise to stress that the island’s revitalization is also convenient for the United States, destination of the mass exodus of Puerto Ricans affected both by the hurricanes and the crisis.
History shows that local precariousness pushes Puerto Ricans to the mainland. To the extent that more opportunities are created for people to access housing, better health care and jobs on the island, those indicators that define the island ´s humanitarian crisis will dispel. It is up to all sectors here and in the diaspora to join forces to appeal to those friends of Puerto Rico, both Democrats and Republicans, in the search for fair solutions for the American citizens living on the island. The responsibility to avoid funds for Puerto Rico to remain trapped in political disputes lies with federal and local authorities. Constructive dialogue, humanitarian generosity and accountability are essential for that purpose.
The economic and social well-being of Puerto Rico, as well as our diaspora political activism in both parties, have an impact in the American sphere of power. We trust that Republicans and Democrats will build a bridge towards a constructive dialogue that will reopen the flow of funds that Puerto Ricans need.
In the mean time, may these experiences be useful for the island´s governmental and private leadership to explore creative ways to reactivate the economy through the development of diversified industries that will create long-lasting jobs and even grow towards exports. It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent Puerto Rico from continuously succumbing into its crisis and being a hostage trapped in political games.