Uncertainty in Puerto Rico, FEMA Increasing Fund Oversight

FEMA announced Thursday it will increase federal oversight of funds by reinstating the Manual Drawdown Process for Puerto Rico amidst Governor Ricardo Rosselló's contentious resignation earlier in the week.

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Through the manual drawdown process, FEMA will closely oversee the disbursement of funds and increase reviews of documentation. Assistant Press Secretary Abbey Dennis said the agency only implements this process “if there is reason.” Established in Puerto Rico in 2017, it will require recipients to provide necessary documentation for funding.

After weeks of violent protests in San Juan, Rosselló conceded to stepping down. However, claims of corruption and the government’s mismanagement of funds catalyzed FEMA’s decision to increase oversight of Puerto Rican relief. In a press release Thursday, FEMA cited "fiscal irregularities" with their contributions as the reason for rescinding taxpayer-funded relief.

“Given the ongoing leadership changes within the Puerto Rican government, combined with continued concern over Puerto Rico’s history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement, FEMA decided it is prudent to take additional steps to protect its share of the federal investment by reinstating the manual drawdown process,” FEMA's Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow stated in the release.

Puerto Rico's Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez has defended her department in a post on Thursday, saying the allegations are libelous and defamatory.

Puerto Rico has been receiving funding from the emergency assistance agency for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, both of which hit in 2017.

Rosselló, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, announced his resignation on July 24th and would officially leave office effective Aug. 2. While the governorship would typically move to the Secretary of State, he was amongst the leaders who resigned on corruption allegations. According to the Wall Street Journal, Puerto Rico’s Office of Government Ethics said its legal counsel is vetting the incoming governor to ensure they have not committed ethical violations related to Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

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The hurricanes devastated the island with more than 3,000 fatalities, leaving 90 percent of the island without power – with 40 percent powerless for most of 2017 – and decimating infrastructure, according to CIA estimates. Tourism, which is a major economic determinant for the island, has been deeply affected by the disasters. Early death tolls were highly-contested and the questionable management of government funding in the wake of the tragedies has been only been a further blight on the stagnant rebuilding of the island.

A previously published version of this article incorrectly stated that FEMA was restricting funding. Funding is being transferred to the federal level to more closely manage relief for the island.