Memories of surviving Hurricane Maria still persecute many inhabitants of Puerto Rico, four years after the storm wreaked terrible havoc in this US territory on September 20, 2017.
Thousands of homes that were destroyed, many of them still covered with blue tarps, are still waiting to be fixed. The constant power outages They remind Puerto Ricans that essential works have not yet begun to modernize the antiquated electricity grid decimated by María.
The deterioration of schools, roads, bridges and even sanitary facilities they point to a slow rebuilding process that has not yet accelerated its pace.
A new analysis by the Center for a New Economy (CNE), a nonpartisan think tank based in Puerto Rico, argues that post-hurricane rehabilitation is just one of three. “systemic shocks“that challenge the territory, along with the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis that began a decade ago.
Some of the most important reconstruction work, which includes “undertaking mitigation activities to increase resilience and reduce risk exposure for vulnerable populations, has not yet begun,” the analysis highlights.
Hurricane Maria left $ 90 billion in damages and Congress allocated at least $ 63 billion dollars for emergency and recovery operations. Four years later, about 71% of those funds have not arrived to the communities of the island archipelago. Puerto Rico has received about $ 18 billion, according to FEMA’s Recovery Support Function Leadership Group.
The Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, which monitors Puerto Rico’s finances, has said that the remaining bulk of the aid is expected to be disbursed. after fiscal year 2025, according to Sergio Marxuach, CNE policy director and author of the analysis.
Created during the Obama administration under the Promesa Act of 2016, the federal fiscal board is responsible for restructuring Puerto Rico’s public debt of $ 72 billion, after it US law arbitrarily excludes this territory from the federal bankruptcy code.
This has resulted in tough austerity measures while Puerto Rico tries to boost its economic growth.
The precarious financial situation was further complicated more with a series of destructive earthquakes that occurred in early 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, which made life even more difficult for the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans living in the territory.
So far, Puerto Rico has recovered approximately two-thirds of the loss of economic activity caused by the pandemic. But Marxuach stresses that caution should be maintained about the relatively fast recovery, as it is largely attributed to a recent injection of federal aid related to the pandemic.
“It is worrying that short-term economic growth depends mainly on federal transfers we do not control“Marxuach emphasizes in the report.” We are concerned that these expenditures will have a temporary positive impact on the economy, which could delay efforts to develop a strategy or a medium-long-term economic plan for Puerto Rico, “he adds.
Puerto Rico is expected to receive $ 43.5 billion in federal aid related to COVID-19 for fiscal year 2023, according to the Fiscal Management and Oversight Board.
Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition made up of national organizations, is pushing for the federal government to address structural factors preventing short- and long-term recovery. It is also working to strengthen the infrastructure of the United States, write off its debt as part of the restructuring process, and increase transparency and accountability.
The coalition urges President Joe Biden and his Administration to address the issues he promised to undertake during his presidential campaign.
According to a fact sheet prepared by Power 4 Puerto Rico and shown in advance to NBC News, sister network of Noticias Telemundo, Biden has fulfilled some campaign promises, including the release of previously paralyzed hurricane aid and the reactivation of a White House Puerto Rico task force to advance efforts to rehabilitate the island.
But still has not ordered a review of the fiscal austerity policy from the federal fiscal board, as it promised to do, as well as supporting an audit of Puerto Rico’s debt and ensuring that recovery funds benefit local businesses.
The federal tax board is promoting structural reforms in key areas such as social welfare, energy and the way of doing business, “which it estimates will have a cumulative positive impact equivalent to 0.75% of Gross National Income for fiscal year 2026,” it states. Marxuach in the report.
But the expert points out that “it is not clear, however, if the Government of Puerto Rico has the capacity to implement these policies” and whether they will have the economic impact expected by the board.