Memories of the survival of Hurricane Maria still haunt the people of Puerto Rico, four years after the storm wreaked havoc in the United States on September 20, 2017.
There are reminders of the destruction, with thousands of homes, many of which are still covered in blue tarps, yet to be repaired. Constant power cuts remind Puerto Ricans that essential work to modernize the dilapidated power grid decimated by Maria has yet to begin. The deterioration of school buildings, roads, bridges and even health facilities indicates a slow reconstruction process that has not yet accelerated.
A new analysis by the Center for a New Economy, a non-partisan Puerto Rican-based think tank, says post-hurricane reconstruction is just one of three “systemic shocks” – along with the Covid-19 pandemic and the decade-long financial crisis – which challenge Puerto Rico.
On reconstruction, some of the most important work, which includes “undertaking mitigation activities to increase resilience and reduce risk exposure of vulnerable populations – has not yet started,” according to analysis.
“If a Category 1 hurricane hits the island today, it will not survive. The electricity grid will not survive, ”said Representative Nydia Velázquez, DN.Y. at a press conference on Monday hosted by the Hispanic Federation to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost to Hurricane Maria.
“Puerto Ricans experience power outages almost daily and each of those outages takes them back to that unforgettable dawn of September 2017,” said the Puerto Rican-born MP. “Thousands of houses with blue tarps. This is happening in America.”
Hurricane Maria caused $ 90 billion in damage and Congress allocated at least $ 63 billion for disaster relief and recovery. Four years later, about 71% of these funds have not reached the communities of the island archipelago. Puerto Rico received around $ 18 billion, according to FEMA Recovery Support Function Steering Group.
“As we invest in upgrading and modernizing our US infrastructure system, we need to make sure that we are doing it everywhere, in every community,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., during the press conference alongside Velázquez. “It starts by ensuring that Puerto Rico’s needs are included in the reconstruction program and that our infrastructure investments meet the most important needs.”
According to Sergio Marxuach, CNE policy director and author of the analysis, the Oversight and Budget Management Board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances has said the bulk of reconstruction aid is expected to come after fiscal 2025. .
Created under the Obama administration under the Promesa Act of 2016, the Federal Tax Board is tasked with restructuring Puerto Rico’s $ 72 billion public debt after U.S. laws arbitrarily excluded US territory from the Federal Bankruptcy Code. This has resulted in severe austerity measures as Puerto Rico tries to revive its economic growth.
The precarious financial situation was further complicated as worsening crises such as a series of destructive earthquakes in early 2020 followed by the Covid-19 pandemic made life more difficult for the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans living on the territory.
Puerto Rico has so far made up about two-thirds of the loss of economic activity resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. But Marxuach said it was important to remain cautious about the relatively rapid recovery, as it is largely attributed to a recent injection of federal aid linked to the pandemic.
“It is worrying that short-term economic growth depends primarily on receiving federal transfers over which we do not control,” Marxuach said in the report. “We are concerned that these expenditures may have a temporary positive impact on the economy that may delay efforts to develop a medium / long term economic strategy or plan for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is expected to receive $ 43.5 billion in federal aid related to Covid-19 by fiscal 2023, according to the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of national organizations from the United States, is lobbying the federal government to address structural factors hampering recovery in the short and long term. They call for strengthening the infrastructure of the United States, reducing its debt as part of the restructuring process and increasing transparency and accountability.
Coalition urges President Joe Biden and his administration to address issues he vowed to undertake during his campaign.
According to a fact sheet written by Power 4 Puerto Rico and shown in advance to NBC News, Biden has kept some campaign promises, including releasing previously stalled hurricane aid and reviving a White House task force in Puerto Rico to advance reconstruction efforts on the island. ‘Isle.
But he has yet to order a review of the federal tax council’s fiscal austerity policy, which he has pledged to do, as well as support a Puerto Rican debt audit and ensure that the recovery funds benefit local businesses.
The Federal Tax Council is promoting structural reforms for Puerto Rico in key areas such as social protection, energy and ease of doing business, “which it says will have a cumulative positive impact equal to 0.75% of GNP by fiscal year 2026 “. Marxuach said in the report.
But Marxuach points out “that it is not clear, however, whether the government of Puerto Rico has the capacity to implement these policies” and whether they will have the economic impact predicted by the board.
“We need the resources to build houses, build roads, provide services, rebuild the health system,” Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, president of the local legislature of Puerto Rico, said at the press conference in Puerto Rico. Monday. “How are we going to work, if we are not sure… We do not know if we will have electricity in our house when we come back from work.”