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.

Pequeños agricultores enfrentan escollos para acceder a fondos de recuperación

Para acceder a fondos de recuperación, se espera que los pequeños agricultores dejen el pico y la azada para hacer planes de negocio y someter documentos como planillas, declaraciones juradas y hasta diplomas universitarios. Una coalición de organizaciones dedicadas a la agricultura solicitó al Departamento de la Vivienda (DV) que atienda sus reclamos para garantizar el acceso equitativo a los fondos de recuperación del Programa de Renacer Agrícola de Puerto Rico (Re-Grow), ya que las guías para solicitar los fondos no responden a las necesidades y realidades del pequeño agricultor puertorriqueño. El programa Re-Grow cuenta con $92.5 millones en fondos del programa de Subvención en Bloque para el Desarrollo Comunitario para Recuperación ante Desastres (CDBG-DR). De esa cifra, $30 millones fueron separados para el trabajo administrativo que realizará el Fideicomiso de Ciencias, Tecnología e Investigación de Puerto Rico, entidad contratada por el DV para implementar el programa. El Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) tuvo acceso a mensajes en los cuales desde septiembre del 2020 la coalición le solicitó al Fideicomiso que enmendara las guías del programa Re-Grow.

Pattern of Workplace Harassment Reigns at FEMA’s Office of External Affairs in Puerto Rico

An environment of hostility, pressure, workplace harassment, persecution, intimidation and discrimination based on age and gender seems to reign in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of External Affairs in Puerto Rico, according to documented incidents since 2019 by at least 10 employees, most of them women. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) learned of the situation through two separate sources who identify Juan Andrés Muñoz Torres and Ricardo Agosto Castro, director and deputy director of External Affairs, respectively, as the ones allegedly responsible for these harassment situations that have led to the resignation of employees, transfer of duties, assignment of unrelated tasks, and the roadblock to getting the work done in FEMA. The CPI learned that at least four of those employees submitted formal claims before FEMA’s Office of Equal Rights, under the “Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002” (known as the No Fear Act), the Equal Opportunity Employment protections (EEO) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and the Freedom Policy Statement Against Discrimination, which covers FEMA. “I have the obligation to report that my co-workers and I have been persecuted, pressured, harassed, degraded as professionals for being isolated and without access to information and for being fully assigned to irrelevant tasks and treated in an insulting way,” one of the complainants of that office told a superior at FEMA in a document to which the CPI had access. However, almost two years after some of these complaints were submitted, the federal agency maintains both officials in their positions without penalizing them and has not offered a solution or protection to the people who have reported these behaviors, the two sources confirmed to the CPI, speaking  on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Municipal Response to Disasters in Puerto Rico Cost Candidates Their Re-elections

Ten of the 20 towns in Puerto Rico that have received a lower percentage of the recovery funds approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had new mayors taking office in January. The most notorious case is Vieques, which had only received 4.9% of the $51.3 million that FEMA obligated before the November 2020 elections, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found when comparing the funds allocated with the amount of money disbursed as of that date. In addition to the island municipality, the rest of the towns that elected new mayors and that had low percentages of FEMA money in their coffers were Culebra (7.3%), Adjuntas (9.6%), Patillas (14.8%), Arecibo (16.1%), Santa Isabel (18.3%), Lares (22.6%), Corozal (23.5%), San Lorenzo (24.1%) and Ponce (24.5%). There is a perception that after an emergency, the person closest to the residents are the mayors. However, research shows that this is not so in all cases, especially after Hurricane María in 2017 and the earthquakes in 2020.

El dinero disponible para la recuperación en noviembre de 2020

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Los fondos de recuperación y las elecciones

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