It also represents some relief for the endagered Puerto Rican budget now facing the responsability to reform its finances to return to global capital markets and revive the island´s economy.
However, the federal government imposed strict conditions in order to disburse emergency funds to the island. They include the submission of an economic and recovery plan endorsed by the Oversight Board along with monthly reports to Congress and complying with a detailed list of priorities and metrics.
These federal requirements, provided in the bill, bind the local government to the transparent use of funds and its thorough oversight. These are crucial indicators
on the road to recover the trust of the federal government about the Puerto Rican public management.
This new federal aid for recovery may help the Puerto Rican government sharpen its five-year fiscal plan by providing higher precision on the projected federal funds. Accuracy about the figures as well as the model for government reorganization and the budget balance are key elements for the Board to certify the fiscal proposal.
We are grateful to all those who backed the people of Puerto Rico in this heavy task that gave way to the recovery allocation. Efforts made by Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez and Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who knocked on every single door in Washington, should be remarked.
Democratic minority Senators Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy and Bill Nelson were key in lobbying for these funds. Also to those lawmakers of Puerto Rico descent, Nydia Velázquez, Luis Gutiérrez and José Serrano who responded to the Puerto Rican call.
So did Darrel Soto during his first year in Congress. In the final stretch of the process, Marco Rubio´s support provided a decisive boost to the bill among the Republican majority.
$11 billion of the $ 15 billion approved are for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
This will facilitate access to adequate housing to low and moderate income individuals and families, as well as infrastructure projects in municipalities. $ 2 billion is allocated to repair the power grid at a time when 30 percent of the population still lacks this vital service.
The 4,8 billion for Medicaid, which funds Mi Salud (My Health) plan, is a lifeline for more than a million people who depend on that plan for healthcare and medicines. Congress passed the maximum amount Puerto Rico can aspire within the next two years, conditioning part of those funds to compliance with federal statistics and anti-fraud regulations.
The amount does not represent parity with the states but it is a recognition of the island´s healthcare emergency, especially after Hurricane Maria. Up to now, Puerto Rico was awarded with $350 million annually for Medicaid, so these federal additional funds release an important item of the island´s budget. This new scenario improves the conditions for restructuring the public healthcare system to make it sustainable.
These federal funds recently allocated may help Puerto Rico on its road to thorough reforms on infrastructure and healthcare, key areas for shaping our future.
NEW YORK - The head of Puerto Rico's police was asked to step down from her post by the governor of the U.S. territory, she told Reuters, as the island's authorities struggle to cope with the aftermath of September's Hurricane Maria.
Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the resignation of Commissioner Michelle Hernandez de Fraley on Monday. But that was at the request of Rossello, Hernandez said.
"I did not resign; I was asked to resign by the governor," Hernandez told Reuters in an email. She did not elaborate, other than to say that it was effective immediately, and did not respond to additional questions.
A spokesman for Rossello declined to comment.
Hernandez's departure follows mounting frustration from police unions in Puerto Rico over delays in receiving overtime pay, reflected in huge spikes in absenteeism.
Police have been working more overtime than usual since Hurricane Maria smashed the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, killing dozens and knocking out power to all 3.5 million residents. Power has still not been fully restored.
In recent weeks, more than 2,500 police officers a day were calling in sick, Hernandez had said on local media. That equates to some 20 percent of the island's total police force.
The dip in policing may have contributed to a crime rise since around late December, according to data and anecdotal evidence.
That could be another headache for Puerto Rico, which is in desperate need of investment as it negotiates both its worst disaster in 90 years and the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The island has some $120 billion in combined bond and pension debt, and its bond prices have cratered since the storm, in some cases to below 20 cents on the dollar.
In the first week of 2018, Puerto Rico saw 23 murders, more than double the 9 recorded in the same period last year, according to Karixia Ortiz, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Douglas Leff, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's San Juan field office, told Reuters in an interview that criminals in one rural town recently stole a backhoe, then used it to break into numerous businesses.
"The consensus is that this brazen crime was pulled off because of the absence of police on the streets," Leff said.
Although crime has long been relatively high in Puerto Rico, murders had fallen in 2017, according to DPS data. The island finished the year with 679 killings, slightly down from 700 in 2016, the data showed.
Hernandez, a former military officer, was the first woman to lead Puerto Rico's police force.
Rossello said he had designated Lieutenant Colonel Henry Escalera as interim Commissioner while the administration searched for a replacement.
Rossello's office said it had also asked for the resignation of Puerto Rico's tourism minister, Jose Izquierdo, due to a "loss of trust" in the director. REUTERS