The U.S. Treasury Department and storm-ravaged Puerto Rico say that they have reached a deal to let the bankrupt U.S. territory access billions of dollars in long-disputed federal loans to help it recover from last year’s Hurricane Maria, Reuters reported. In a joint news conference on Thursday in San Juan, broadcast on the internet, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the island can access the so-called community disaster loans (CDLs) as needed until March 2020, once its cash balance dwindles below $1.1 billion. The agreement still needs approval by the federally-appointed board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances, as well as the judge presiding over its $120 billion bankruptcy. The dispute over the loan had ratcheted up tensions between Puerto Rico and Washington, as the island battles the aftermath of its biggest natural disaster in 90 years, while navigating the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history. It also raised questions about the reliability of Puerto Rico’s financial record-keeping. The U.S. Congress in October appropriated $4.9 billion in loans for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but while the Virgin Islands were allowed access to the funds — and have drawn down around $200 million so far — Puerto Rico was not. Read more.
In related news, the U.S. government is scaling back the number of contractors working on Puerto Rico’s storm-damaged electrical grid at a time when roughly 100,000 island residents still lack power, drawing fresh scrutiny from lawmakers over the federal response to Hurricane Maria, WSJ Pro Bankruptcy reported. The House Oversight and Government Reform committee heard testimony yesterday from U.S. officials about bureaucratic challenges to power-restoration efforts in the U.S. territory. Members of Congress from both parties have questioned a drawdown of personnel there by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps stepped in after Hurricane Maria struck in September. It hired two contractors, Fluor Corp. and PowerSecure Inc., to spearhead reconstruction of damaged transmission and distribution lines. The companies are now demobilizing workers as those federal contracts reach their limits. Fluor and PowerSecure had 1,141 contract workers in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, down from more than 4,000 during much of February, according to tweets from the official Army Corps Twitter account. Yet electricity woes continue to plague Puerto Rico, where nearly 100,000 customers, on an island of more than three million, still lack service. Nearly all power generation is back online, but the grid system is prone to sudden outages. Gaps in the above-ground transmission system mean electricity isn’t reaching some rugged, mountainous regions. Read more.
The people of Puerto Rico need your help. Thousands are still without regular power service, and many more need to rebuild their homes. Please join the ABI Endowment and the Mariano Rivera foundation for a charity benefit for Puerto Rico on April 4, 2018, at the New York Athletic Club.