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Puerto Ricans Concerned That $20 Billion Recovery Plan is 'Not for the People'

Monday, January 28, 2019

Puerto Ricans Concerned That $20 Billion Recovery Plan is 'Not for the People'

"César Díaz felt lucky that only a couple of leaks had sprung in his ceiling, even though Hurricane Maria tore the zinc panels off much of his roof. His real troubles began about a year after the storm, when a crew hired by Puerto Rico's housing department showed up to make the repairs.

"They weren't very professional," Díaz said. "They didn't wear gloves, and they asked if I had an extra piece of wood."

Within days, there were new leaks. Not only in the living room but in the bedroom, over his daughter's crib.

"None of those were there before," he said, pointing to a half-dozen brown splotches in the ceiling. Díaz, a music teacher and member of the town council in the hard-hit municipality of Loiza, knew that many of his neighbors were still waiting for repairs. So he began teaching himself the basics of construction.

"Puerto Rico has always been in the path of hurricanes, and it always will be. So in my opinion, a good roof is a matter of life or death," he said. "I want to be able to tell if the crews the government is sending to repair houses in my community are doing the work right."

Díaz is not alone in his scrutiny as Puerto Rico's government ushers in the next phase of its reconstruction — a massive rebuilding effort funded by nearly $20 billion in grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Island officials will have broad discretion to spend the money as they see fit — from repairing damaged homes and building new ones, to shoring up crumbled roads and infrastructure, to launching tourism and business development projects.

But the pressure to spend the money wisely and efficiently is enormous, not least because President Trump himself has reportedly tried to hold up various sources of funding for the island after accusing its elected officials of being "inept politicians" likely to mismanage the funds.

Many Puerto Ricans have denounced those attacks as unfair stereotypes. Even so, people on the island have their own concerns about the government's plans for the money, given its poor response in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the lack of transparency in many agencies, and the persistent perception that cronyism rules when it comes to government contracting. The island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, seems well aware of these concerns, and said he's gone so far as to ask officials at HUD to hold his government accountable for its spending..."

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