Friday, October 13, 2017

PUERTO RICO UPDATE – October 13, 2017

(Courtesy of 
Rep Jose Serrano)


TRAVEL: Today, Speaker Paul Ryan will visit the island accompanied by the chair and ranking members of the House Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen and Rep. Nita M. Lowey, respectively; the Republican Conference Chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers; and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez.  The Speaker will hold a press conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico at 2:25 p.m.  Livestream: speaker.gov/live.

Acting U.S. Army Secretary, Ryan D. McCarthy, visited the island yesterday and oversaw operations at the former Naval Base Roosevelt Roads to verify all the personnel and equipment needed for the recovery and distribution of supplies and water on the island.


APPROPRIATIONS:  Yesterday, the House passed a disaster aid package to the Senate, which is expected to act on the measure next week. The vote clearly articulated a Republican divide over fiscal policy and the amounts provided as emergency relief. Opposition to the measure came solely from Republicans, with 69 Nays.  The voting record is found at: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll566.xml. The $36.5 billion emergency spending bill includes $18.67 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), $576.5 million for wildfire efforts, and $16 billion for debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which now needs additional funds to make necessary insurance claims payments to individuals. In addition, it includes a provision to release $1.2 billion in contingency reserves of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to enable low-income residents in Puerto Rico to receive the same emergency nutrition assistance that other hurricane-affected states already receive.  

 LIQUIDITY: In the disaster relief package that will be voted on today, Congress included a $4.9 billion loan to ease the government’s liquidity crisis. Community Disaster Loan proceeds are usually capped at $5 million and are not usually available to pay for the 25% local cost-sharing requirements, but the disaster relief legislation allows for up to $150 million to be “transferred in advance to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the secretary of the Treasury, would set the conditions for the loan, including any collateral requirements. The loans may also be canceled in whole or in part at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury. 

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY NOMINEE: On Wednesday, Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen as the next Homeland Security Secretary.  Nielsen is an attorney with experience in homeland security and cybersecurity, having served on the White House Homeland Security Council under President George W. Bush. Elaine Duke has led the department in an acting capacity through recent destructive hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

FEMA: Requests for Individual Assistance has been limited to only those residents with Internet access.  When individuals gain access, they must indicate a physical address to file their request.  Address recognition systems in the U.S. fare poorly in recognizing Puerto Rico’s physical addresses. Alas, when the system does manage to recognize the address, they confront an additional problem. Approximately 30% of addresses are postal address, not physical addresses.  Puerto Rico is still awaiting response from FEMA for its requested waiver of local cost-sharing requirements related to Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance under categories C through G, which cover permanent works such as roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings, public utilities, parks and other facilities. If granted, the federal government would assume the full cost of C-G works. This quest for a full waiver of the cost-sharing requirements for the FEMA Public Assistance program that fixes infrastructure damaged during catastrophes was also undertaken for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 OVERSIGHT: Rep. Cummings, Ranking Member of House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to General John F. Kelly, requesting White House documents relating to the federal government’s preparation for and response to recent hurricanes.  This comes two weeks after the letter Rep. Cummings and democratic colleagues authored a letter to Chairman Trey Gowdy requesting the Committee to hold an “emergency hearing” on the Administration’s response to PR and the USVI.

ELECTRICITY: In an abrupt change from yesterday, when power was restored to 17% of the population, today only 9% of overall customers have power. FEMA will provide an additional $42.8 million to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) mainly to purchase fuel, bringing the total amount of assistance awarded to $97.4 million.  The total amount needed has not been provided.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt waived certain parts of the Clean Air Act to allow for the continued use of heating oil and marine fuel designated for use in Emission Control Areas that exceed the 15 parts per million sulfur standard for mobile non-road generators and pumps used for emergency purposes in Puerto Rico. 

 WATER: According to the local government, 63% of customers have access to water. FEMA awarded the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) $70 million for emergency work, bringing the total amount of assistance awarded to individuals and communities to $210 million. The EPA reported yesterday that it has received reports of residents obtaining drinking water from wells at hazardous waste “Superfund” sites in Puerto Rico. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.

 PRIVATE SECTOR: 87% of grocery and big box stores are open in Puerto Rico; 79% of retail gas stations are operating.

Airports: All airports are open, and with the facilities at Roosevelt Roads now operating; 75% of ports are open.

Fatalities: Official death toll increases to 45 deaths directly and indirectly related to Hurricane Maria. Investigative reporting from various sources have tallied up deaths to the north of 450 people. Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) have asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the possible underreporting of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

HEALTH: 66 of 69 hospitals are currently open and accepting patients.  35 hospitals are connected to the grid. The Puerto Rico Department of Health has sent just 82 patients to the Comfort over the past six days, even though the ship can serve 250. The Comfort’s 800 medical personnel were treating just seven patients on Monday.

DAMAGE ESTIMATES:  Governor Rosselló calculated the magnitude of damages may add up to $95 billion (roughly 150% of Puerto Rico’s annual GNP); initial down payment should be $10-15 billion.  

 TELECOMMUNICATIONS: On Saturday October 7, the Federal Communications Commission granted an experimental license for Google’s Parent Company, Alphabet Inc., to deploy Project Loon, which uses balloons to help provide internet service to people in hard-to-reach places.  News release found at: https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-grants-experimental-license-project-loon-puerto-rico

JONES ACT: On Sunday October 8, the White House let the 10-day shipping waiver for the Jones Act expire for Puerto Rico, meaning foreign ships can no longer bring aid to the hurricane-ravaged island from U.S. ports. Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced H.R. 3966, the Puerto Rico Humanitarian Relief Act, providing a 5 year moratorium.

 MEDICAID CLIFF:  The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a report on the need to address PR’s Medicaid cliff. The report calculates what the federal government and states are likely to pay for providing Medicaid for Puerto Ricans moving to US states from 2018 to 2027 based on two scenarios: continued out-migration to US states at the current (pre-hurricane) rate, and another scenario in which the out-migration rate doubles. Under the more pessimistic scenario, the costs would be $19.4 billion for the federal government, and $12.3 billion among states, as compared to $7.8 billion for services in Puerto Rico. Full report.

 S-CHIP:  On October 2, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden unveiled the HEALTHY KIDS Act, which would extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and temporarily increase federal funding for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.  It’s important to note 1) it offers no assistance to USVI, 2) an additional $1 billion would have allowed Puerto Rico to sustain its pre-hurricane Medicaid program for less than a year 3) Hurricane will exacerbate medical needs and Medicaid usage rate and 4) Hurricane has drastically reduced PR’s fiscal capacity to contribute their share of the bill.  If PR can’t fulfill their obligation, the funding provided in this bill is well short of the funding needed. 

SBA ASSISTANCE: The Small Business Administration (SBA) makes federally subsidized loans to repair or replace homes, personal property, or businesses that sustained damages not covered by insurance.  For  materials on Disaster Recovery and Assistance in Spanish and English, please visit: http://democrats.smallbusiness.house.gov/press-release/disaster-recovery-assistance-resources