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Menendez, Booker Join Colleagues in Urging President Biden to Eliminate Puerto Rico Cost Share for FEMA Hurricane Relief Assistance

Government and Politics

September 26, 2022


The Senators expressed concern that Puerto Rico will have difficulty covering the 25% local match, which could delay access to federal assistance for removing debris and making emergency repairs to public facilities and infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both-D-N.J.) joined several of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Joe Biden asking for the federal government to waive any local cost-share for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid to Puerto Rico.

On September 18, 2022, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, cutting off power to the entire island and leaving many areas under water. That same day, President Biden approved an emergency declaration to authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA to work in coordination on disaster relief efforts. Just yesterday, President Biden granted the request to issue a Major Disaster Declaration, a day after Sen. Menendez and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.-07) led a bicameral push requesting this important step to unlock the flow of federal resources to the island.

Public Assistance grants issued by FEMA require that states and territories shoulder a share of the cost of recovery. While these cost-share requirements can be adjusted to lighten the state or territory’s burden, this has not yet been done for Puerto Rico.

    “In light of the continued concerning news about the devastation the hurricane has wrought on the island, which has prompted Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi to announce his request for a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities, as well as the ongoing economic challenges faced by the island, we write to urge you to waive the local cost-sharing requirements by setting the federal cost-share at 100% for Public Assistance grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Puerto Rico,” wrote the lawmakers.

Sens. Menendez and Booker are long-time supporters of the people of Puerto Rico, and they have been ardent advocates for ensuring the federal government fully supports Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in their continued recovery efforts since Hurricane Maria devastated the islands five years ago. The Senators are now playing an active role as Puerto Rico works to recover from Hurricane Fiona.

Sen. Menendez visited Puerto Rico in 2017 to survey the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and continually fought to hold Trump Administration officials accountable for botched recovery efforts. He led efforts to extend a foreclosure moratorium for FHA insured mortgages in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, which would have put struggling families at risk of homelessness, and held FEMA accountable for cutting off federal assistance for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Puerto Rico. In 2019, Sen. Menendez and his colleagues also called on the inspector general to review FEMA’s faltering efforts to rebuild Vieques’ health care facility divested by Hurricane Maria, and last year reintroduced legislation to ensure Vieques receives the federal assistance needed to help it rebuild.

Find a copy of the letter below.

Dear President Biden:

Thank you for swiftly declaring an emergency in Puerto Rico resulting from Hurricane Fiona,1 and for acting swiftly to surge federal support to the island.2 In light of the continued concerning news about the devastation the hurricane has wrought on the island, which has prompted Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi to announce his request for a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities,3 as well as the ongoing economic challenges faced by the island, we write to urge you to waive the local cost-sharing requirements by setting the federal cost-share at 100% for Public Assistance grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico was already facing an extremely challenging financial situation before Hurricane Maria struck five years ago this week. That hurricane and its aftermath, along with a failed federal response, resulted in the deaths of thousands of U.S. citizens.4 The island’s economic challenges mounted, and Puerto Rico still has not fully recovered. Now, Hurricane Fiona deals another blow to U.S. citizens who need urgent federal support. We are concerned that Puerto Rico will have difficulty covering the 25% local match, which could delay access to federal assistance for removing debris and making emergency repairs to public facilities and infrastructure.

The President has statutory authority, pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to reduce or eliminate the local cost-share requirement following major disasters.5 This has been done in the past.6 We strongly urge you to take this step now, and not to allow the cost-share to impede the provision of maximum help to those in need.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent request.

Sincerely,