Puerto Rico may receive less federal disaster money than expected, a potential drag on an island that was counting on post-Hurricane rebuilding to help it recover from a years-long recession, according to a report from the commonwealth’s financial oversight board.
The federally appointed board last month released a multi-year fiscal plan to balance Puerto Rico’s budgets, reduce $35 billion of debt and other liabilities and address a broke pension system. It relies on federal disaster aid from Hurricane Maria to help grow the economy.
Yet that plan has risks. Puerto Rico may only receive $39 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, rather than the anticipated $69 billion, according to a Sept. 17 report by the board and posted late Thursday night on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s website.
“We are already seeing delays in disaster relief funding and have reason to question the duration of the ‘boost’ these funds are bringing to the economy,” according to the report.
The release of the board’s risk report comes as it negotiates in bankruptcy proceedings with creditors on how to reduce $17.8 billion of debt backed by Puerto Rico’s central government. Release of the risk report was “pursuant to mediation process” according to the document.
The board has reason to doubt the amount and pace of federal aid money. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday said the administration was correct in thinking that Puerto Rico was corrupt, which he said figured in decisions about disbursing aid.
While two former Puerto Rico officials and the head of an accounting firm were indicted in July over possible theft, money laundering and wire fraud, two FEMA officials were arrested last month on fraud and conspiracy charges linked to Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
Puerto Rico may see only three years of economic benefit from federal disaster aid, rather than the planned five years, if such money were reduced. That would affect the island’s revenue collections, according to the report. Population decline could also accelerate with another storm, financial crisis or health epidemic.
Other risks include delayed structural reforms that officials expect will help reduce expenditures, including privatizing a portion of the government-owned electric utility, the main supplier of energy on the island.
“The government is behind on implementing all of the major structural reforms required to drive economic growth on the island,” according to the report.
The board’s fiscal plan would give investors 64% of what they’re owed on general-obligation bonds issued before 2012 and as little as 35% for those sold in 2014 if bondholders agree to settle rather than litigate the board’s claim that securities sold in 2012 and 2014 violated the island’s constitutional debt limits.