Puerto Rico’s main recovery projects yet to get off the ground three years after Hurricane Maria

Rebuilding the most costly and essential infrastructure projects — including those related to water supply, power service, education and recreation — which were affected after Hurricane María slammed into Puerto Rico in 2017, could take several more years to get off the ground. So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated money to only four of the 10 most expensive recovery projects requiring federal funds, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. The remaining six are in the project formulation stage before the federal agency, which is only the first of 19 evaluation steps when claiming funds for a structure that has been affected by an emergency. That first step includes filling out project worksheets (PW), in which the entity that claims losses to FEMA details the costs of the work and the breakdown of any applicable insurance reimbursement. Completing the entire evaluation could take months and even years, several local and federal government officials interviewed by the CPI confirmed.

Gold coins, Playstation controls, properties and $21 million are the legacy of fraud

An order from the US District Court – Middle District of Florida appointing Mark A. Kornfeld as receiver in a fraud case was entered late on March 6, 2020. The next morning, Kornfeld went to the BBT Financial Center, on 1800 Second Street, in Sarasota, Florida and took possession of Suite 855. Since 2013, it has been the office of Kinetic Funds and Lendacy, the companies that investment manager Michael Williams used to defraud dozens of investors from Puerto Rico and Florida, according to a civil case filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at the beginning of the year. Inside the office, backed by a forensics team, Kornfeld changed the locks on the door, went through several files and took an inventory of all of the items. The office, on the eighth floor of a brick building with luxury suites, was left empty. Everything that had been in it was transported to a storage facility in Sarasota, a city south of Tampa.

Recurrent Trauma: The effects of Climate Change on Mental Health in Puerto Rico

Rafael Negrón Santos did not lose his home or his job after Hurricane María, but the storm was the end of his relationship with his partner. The struggle to survive in the days and weeks that followed, coupled with the despair caused by life without electricity, the frustration at the number of deaths that the government refused to acknowledge, and the time he devoted to taking care of his mother’s needs, weakened communication with his partner. One day he came home, and she was gone. The number of stress factors he faced took a toll on his mental health. In the months that followed, he lost his appetite, lost nearly 40 pounds, and had panic attacks.

Three years. Four disasters. Social workers in Puerto Rico want change.

This story was published in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, social worker Erica Colón Ortega organized psychologists, therapists and religious counselors to meet with residents in her community of Dorado. Many living there had lost all their possessions after flood water rushed into homes sitting along the river. As Colón Ortega talked to residents about their losses, she also heard about the emotional toll — feelings of despair, sadness and anguish as they struggled to rebuild. Now, as COVID-19 surges, mental-health needs in Dorado and across Puerto Rico are further mounting, she and other experts warn.

Governor Unveiled Plan to Address Coastal Erosion that Snubs Committee of Experts and Advisors on Climate Change

The announcement the Government of Puerto Rico made this week about the action plan to address the impact of coastal erosion snubbed the legally mandated role that members of the Committee of Experts and Advisors on Climate Change have to handle this matter that affects the island’s coastal towns. Aside from not having any scientific member of that Committee present during   the announcement, they weren’t either   consulted about the plan presented, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) confirmed. On September 2, La Fortaleza announced that a working group met that day to prepare an action plan to address coastal erosion. The meeting, which included agency heads from Puerto Rico and representatives of the federal government, was held at the Miramar Convention Center. The CPI contacted five of the nine members of the Committee of Experts and Advisors on Climate Change, and although they confirmed having received an invitation to the meeting, at least four of the six scientific members said they did not know what the action plan announced is about and they expressed concern that the government will not enforce Act 33, which took effect on July 1, 2019.

The Use of only 2% of CDBG-DR Available Funds Shows Puerto Rico Government’s Slow Spending

Of the $20.2 billion recovery funds allocation granted after Hurricane María through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR), Puerto Rico has been approved to use only 16%, or, $3.2 billion. Of the money available, the government had used a mere 2%, as of June 30, the end of fiscal year 2020. The bureaucratic process and restrictions by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), coupled with the government of Puerto Rico’s ongoing staffing and planning changes, influence the delay in the disbursement of money, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. Some $67 million had been disbursed, at the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, according to the federal interagency Recovery Support Function Leadership Group (RSFLG), that is, 76% of what was projected by the 2020 Fiscal Plan certified by the Fiscal Control Board. Some of the recovery projects have been shifted to a different agency in charge; others have been canceled.

Fishermen in Puerto Rico Approach Third Year Without Receiving Funds for Losses After Hurricane María

Three years after Hurricane María made landfall, fishermen in Puerto Rico have not seen a penny of aid funding to cover losses caused by the storm, several fisheries have not yet been repaired and others have been unable to resume their normal work due to lack of equipment, boats or ramps. At worst, some have closed down. The bureaucracy in the management of the funds, coupled with neglect in how the procedures were handled by the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) have been the obstacles to access to money, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. “We would have been better off if we had been swept away [by the hurricane]. [The Department of] Agriculture told us they didn’t know what to do with us.

The Reasons for the Limited Number of Molecular Tests in Puerto Rico

Finding molecular tests that confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis in Puerto Rico is currently quite challenging, and the government restricts who has access to them. One of the reasons is the lack of materials such as reagents, the chemicals necessary to detect the coronavirus. “All reference labs have a need for reagents,” said Ilia Toledo, president of the Toledo Clinical Laboratory, one of the largest in Puerto Rico. In addition, the 200 members of the Association of Clinical Laboratories face problems getting swabs for sampling, its President Juan Rexach confirmed. The standard justification given for the lack of swabs, transport vials, and chemical reagents — all necessary to administer and process these tests — is fierce competition for these supplies throughout the U.S. and around the world.