The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Administrator, Deanne Criswell, visited Puerto Rico this week to hold meetings with several officials and the agency’s local team, as part of the events leading up to the commemoration of the five-year mark of Hurricane María. The Administrator’s agenda focused on the achievement of over 10,000 obligated projects and the mitigation opportunities available in the reconstruction progress.
This trip marks Criswell’s second visit to Puerto Rico since taking office as FEMA Administrator in 2021.
During her meeting with Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi and Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator, José G. Baquero, the officials discussed projects under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the expediting of funds to rebuild critical infrastructure through FEMA’s Accelerated Awards Strategy (FAASt), a pilot initiative that began in Puerto Rico.
The Administrator also reaffirmed her and the agency’s commitment to the projects that are pending an allocation of funds.
As of today, the country has over $126 million in HMGP funds, a tool that also supports the work of the municipalities during an emergency.
“Puerto Rico has a unique opportunity to not only rebuild, but to build back better. The historic assistance provided by FEMA presents Puerto Ricans with the opportunity to meet their goal of a strong infrastructure prepared to mitigate future damage. As an agency, we remain committed to advancing equity and combating climate change, while increasing preparedness and resilience in the face of future natural and man-made disasters,” Criswell said.
Meanwhile, Governor Pierluisi said, “In our meeting, I took the opportunity to thank her for the agency’s unequivocal support and efforts to help Puerto Rico. The relationship we have developed with FEMA since the beginning of my administration last year has resulted in a steady progress toward rebuilding Puerto Rico and benefiting our people. We have constant communication and full collaboration, and we’re working together as a team toward a more agile reconstruction.”
According to Federal Coordinator Baquero, the Administrator’s visit underscores the importance of Puerto Rico’s recovery to the agency. “The entire world is facing a variety of extreme consequences as a result of climate change, and we know what that means for the agency. For that and much more, we’re extremely grateful for Administrator Criswell’s visit, as her participation in key meetings with recovery leaders was invaluable as we continue the work ahead.”
Another of Criswell’s priority meetings took place at the Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) with Executive Director Manuel Laboy. The officials discussed their shared vision for advancing projects aimed at mitigating damage from future natural disasters. They also discussed the priority of finalizing the update of mitigation plans for municipalities, a goal that will be completed soon.
Furthermore, Administrator Criswell also met with FEMA’s Joint Recovery Office (JRO) staff to discuss labor equity initiatives in Puerto Rico. At the meeting, the federal official highlighted the efforts of the internal teams that drafted and implemented the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation document, created to plan, strategize and make evidence-based decisions at the programmatic and operational levels. Criswell also recognized the staff responsible for designing nature-based project strategies to mitigate future damages.
Puerto Rico has already been allocated over $28 billion in Public Assistance funds for recovery and reconstruction projects. These funds also include over $9.5 billion under FAASt for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, aqueduct and sewer system, public schools, and public housing.