Small-scale farmers facing roadblocks to access recovery funds

To access recovery funds, small-scale farmers are expected to drop their pick and hoe to write  business plans and submit documents such as payroll, affidavits and even college diplomas. A coalition of organizations dedicated to farming asked the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (DV) to address their claims to guarantee equitable access to recovery funds from the Puerto Rico Agricultural Re-Grow Program, since the guidelines to request funds do not respond to the needs and realities of the small-scale Puerto Rican farmer. The Re-Grow program has $92.5 million in funding from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. Of that amount, $30 million was set aside for the administrative work to be done by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, an entity the DV hired   to implement the program. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) had access to messages in which, since September 2020, the coalition asked the Trust to amend the Re-Grow program guidelines.

Use of funds allocated to the Department of Education to recover from earthquakes and hurricanes Irma and María is unknown

Following several requests for information submitted to the Department of Education, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) today asked the Superior Court to order the agency and its designated Secretary, Elba Aponte Santos, to release it. The special appeal for judicial review that the CPI filed is the remedy offered by the recently approved Transparency and Access to Public Information Act (Act 141 of 2019) when a government agency fails to comply with the term to deliver the public information requested, CPI Executive Director Carla Minet said. The information that the CPI asked for includes the public school enrollment and budget starting in Fiscal Year 2015-2016, the funds assigned to the Department of Education to address the emergencies brought on by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, and the earthquakes occurred early in 2020, the list of contracts awarded using those funds, updated information on the use of funds from the federal “Immediate Aid to Restart Operations (Restart)” program, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Infrastructure Financing Authority (known as AFI, in Spanish) and the Department of Education and the plan that the agency presented on Dec. 21, 2020 for recovery projects that would be carried out with the $2 billion that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already obligated. “The people were told that the Educational Reform approved during the last administration would provide transparency regarding each school budget and the use of funds in the Department of Education.

Lack of Funding Delays the Integration of 18 Years of Seismic Data Into Puerto Rico’s Earthquake Hazard Maps and the Building Code

Machines costing thousands of dollars are operated from a small office on the college campus. Keeping them in good condition costs the government’s coffers several million annually. They are seismic and tide-gauge station devices that are part of the tsunami and earthquake detection system. Monitoring this information not only contributes to the generation of data in Puerto Rico, but also gathers data on the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. The data generated is analyzed and interpreted by three research professors from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Mayagüez, who, with the support of some students, do their best to document these phenomena, while informing the island’s population about the risks.

CPI Asks Court to Order Government to Make Public Its COVID-19 Plan and Vaccination Registry

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) requested on Thursday, through a mandamus petition against the Department of Health, the itemized distribution list  of COVID-19 vaccines received by the government of Puerto Rico and the Vaccination Registry excluding personal information data, but with demographic information, municipality of residence, center and date of vaccination, and justification for the administration of the vaccine. A few hours after the petition was submitted, the San Juan Superior Court gave the government five days, after being summoned, to respond to the legal claim. The COVID-19 vaccines distribution list, requested through multiple channels since December 15, 2020, has not been delivered to CPI journalists Omaya Sosa Pascual and Jeniffer Wiscovitch, despite being vital information to learn how the COVID-19 crisis is being handled in Puerto Rico and the criteria being used to make decisions and establish priorities. “Department of Health officials are obliged to provide all the public documents requested, not only by a media outlet, but also by any citizen. It’s evident that there is a great anxiety among our population to get access to the vaccine, because it can mean the difference between life and death.

LUMA Attorneys Charge More Than $1,000 an Hour and Consultants Get Paid Nearly $5M to Write Plans

Hiring a law firm that charges up to $1,245 per hour. The outsourcing of foreign companies such as Alumbra, from Colorado, which has billed as much as $1.3 million in a single month for plans to transform the energy system without having gone through a competitive process. This is how the first six invoices that LUMA has already submitted to Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) look. Luma is the firm that will manage the transmission and distribution network in Puerto Rico starting in June,

The public corporation does not have the opportunity of reviewing the invoices in a transparent way, Robert Poe, a member of PREPA’s Governing Board said at a meeting on December 16, 2020. His criticism came up because so far, the Public-Private Partnership Authority (AAPP, in Spanish), which oversees the contract with LUMA, has not allowed PREPA to conduct a full review of all of the documents to make sure the expenses are justified.

Never-Ending Wait for Thousands of Puerto Ricans Who Filed Claims in Bankruptcy Proceeding

It was the morning of November 18 when federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain asked several times if anyone had come to the offices of Piloto 151 in Hato Rey to participate in the hearing. A dozen people with masks waited outside, but the official from the federal court in Puerto Rico who was there told the judge that no one had arrived. People were told to go back home. Carmen López was furious when she left, with the lawyer who was there and with the government of Puerto Rico, which, she claims, owes her money. She worked as a public school principal and claims that the Department of Education never paid her salary increases that she should have received since at least the 1980s.

Puerto Rico Excluded From Trump’s White House COVID-19 Task Force Reports

The White House COVID Task Force has been conducting state-by-state weekly analyses of the status of the pandemic and has issued reports with specific recommendations to all state governments for more than six months but has left Puerto Rico out. Apparently, the White House also forgot about the other US territories: Virgin Islands, Guam, Samoa and Mariana Islands. When combined, 3.6 million people live in the four territories. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) detected the omission during a review of the reports, obtained and published by The Center for Public Integrity. In the case of Puerto Rico, the exclusion was also confirmed by the Puerto Rico Health Secretary under the prior administration, and with new Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Remote Learning in Public Housing Projects During Pandemic Times

“I arrived at your schoolwithout understanding why…”Rubén Blades

She would be the first in her family to finish high school. But at least for this year, that dream is on hold. In October she got a letter from the school via email, notifying her parents that the 17-year-old had “F’s” in all six of her classes. If there are no “drastic changes” in her performance or academic achievement during this second semester, the student would be “a candidate to repeat the grade next year,” the document states. She wants to be a paramedic.