Expediting the Recovery Process: A Proposal to Create a Puerto Rico Development Authority

Introduction

Puerto Rico is at a critical junction in the disaster recovery process after Hurricane María. Relief efforts, while still ongoing in certain parts of the island, are slowly winding down and soon will give way to recovery activities and the rebuilding of the island. It is, therefore, “a time of desperate loss, yet also a time of distinct possibility.”1

The commencement of the recovery process is crucial to making the most of that “time of distinct possibility”, as research carried out after similar disasters has found that the time between the beginning of the relief efforts and the beginning of the recovery process is highly correlated with the length of the recovery, as well as with the severity and duration of public health and economic impacts of the disaster on the population as a whole.2 So, it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to move the recovery efforts forward as soon as possible.

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Proposals for Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Puerto Rico

 

  • TREAT PUERTO RICO FAIRLY – Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birth. Therefore, Congress should treat Puerto Rico as a state for purposes of allocating disaster recovery and rebuilding funds. Funding provided through FEMA and the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program should be allocated to Puerto Rico on terms and conditions no less advantageous than those applicable to the fifty states, including funding for hazard mitigation to ensure we minimize harm from similar events in the future.

  • LEVERAGE PRIVATE SECTOR FUNDS – In addition to providing Puerto Rico with its fair share of disaster recovery funding, Congress should legislate to encourage the private sector to actively participate in the creation of the new Puerto Rico. This could be accomplished by enacting a special private activity disaster recovery bonds program, similar to the Liberty Bonds program enacted after 9/11 and after Hurricane Katrina. These bonds would be exempt from federal taxes on interest, including the Alternative Minimum Tax, which allows issuers to offer the bonds at lower interest rates. Proceeds from these bond offerings have been used in the past to finance broad reconstruction activities, including the rebuilding of utilities, hospitals, hotels, residential housing, and commercial real estate, among other uses. The private entity issuing the bonds is entirely responsible for their repayment.
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The Case for Comprehensive Disaster Relief

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Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

By: Sergio M. Marxuach
Public Policy Director

This hurricane season has been particularly bad with major storms hitting Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, and several Gulf states. Total damages are estimated to exceed $200 billion. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) is doing the best job it can with the resources it has at its disposal, but it is clearly reaching the limits of its capabilities. Under the American constitutional system, only Congress has the authority to enact a comprehensive relief and reconstruction package to address this situation.

The devastation in Texas, Florida, the United States Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico has been well documented. The destruction of public infrastructure and the loss of private property affect millions of US citizens. A well-financed, broad-based recovery and reconstruction program would provide a much-needed boost to economic activity in these heavily damaged areas and help many hard-working families get back on their feet. READ MORE

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