The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting Puerto Rico’s recovery and renewal. In 2021, President Biden unlocked billions of dollars in disaster funding and enacted historic expansions of economic and healthcare assistance programs for Puerto Rico. Since then, the Biden-Harris Administration has built on these unprecedented investments to ensure Puerto Rico has a strong foundation for sustained growth.
President Biden’s Investing in America agenda – including historic legislation such as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), CHIPS and Science Act, and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – is delivering results and bringing good jobs to the island. Puerto Rico is now a more attractive place for companies to invest, expand, and drive U.S. competitiveness. For example, Biosimilar Solutions Inc. is investing $200 million in Aguadilla to establish world-class facilities dedicated to research, development, and manufacturing of biosimilar therapies.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding has already provided $1.1 billion for dozens of infrastructure projects across Puerto Rico. That includes approximately $596.1 million for transportation – roads, bridges, public transit, ports, and airports – and $185 million for clean water. The Puerto Rico government also invested its ARP State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds in important projects, including $223 million for water infrastructure, $100 million for road repairs, and $279 million to repair school buildings damaged by the 2020 earthquakes. And as of May 13, 2023, more than 600, 097 households are receiving affordable high-speed internet. Finally, under the Inflation Reduction Act, new possibilities for offshore wind are opening up along the coasts of Puerto Rico, allowing the Department of the Interior to explore wind lease sales in prime areas.
Hosted the Puerto Rico Economic Dialogue to Advance Whole-of-Government Commitments to Puerto Rico
In April 2022, President Biden named Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves to serve as the Administration’s Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator. As part of that commitment, White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, White House Senior Advisor Julie Rodriguez, and Deputy Secretary Graves hosted Governor Pedro Pierluisi and members of his cabinet at the White House for the inaugural Puerto Rico Economic Dialogue in December 2022. This historic meeting brought together Puerto Rico’s leadership and the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico to endorse a slate of actions that the federal and territorial governments will jointly implement over the course of 2023, centered on: 1) workforce development, 2) infrastructure, energy and resilience, 3) building a diversified economy, and 4) improving governance and data.
To advance these actions, Deputy Secretary Graves traveled to Puerto Rico in February 2023 to meet with government, civic, academic, community, and private sector leaders. During this visit, Deputy Secretary Graves, White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling, and Department of the Treasury officials jointly announced Puerto Rico’s approval for up to $109 million in State Small Business Credit Initiative funds, allowing the Puerto Rico Economic Development Bank to make loans and provide collateral for small and medium sized enterprises. Deputy Secretary Graves also announced a nearly $3 million award from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Connecting Minority Communities program to Universidad del Sagrado Corazón to bridge the digital divide at institutions of higher education.
Puerto Rico’s territorial and 79 municipal governments received $4 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to respond to the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. These historic investments included over $600 million to reward workers with bonus pay and $143 million to help local governments maintain essential services and keep police and firefighters on the job. In addition, beginning in July 2022, public school teachers on the island started receiving a $1,000 monthly salary increase that was partly made possible through ARP.
To support Puerto Rico’s families, President Biden’s ARP broadened tax benefits at an unprecedented scale by expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in Puerto Rico to all families with at least one child, permanently bringing CTC benefits into parity with the mainland. In 2022, the Department of the Treasury and White House ARP Coordinator Gene Sperling engaged in extensive outreach to ensure as many families as possible in Puerto Rico received the CTC. As a result, over 250,000 families in Puerto Rico received the credit, a more than six-fold increase since before the passage of ARP, dramatically cutting child poverty. The average annual benefit was $4,700 per family, with more than $1.2 billion disbursed to families in Puerto Rico.
The ARP Emergency Rental Assistance Program delivered $250 million in rent and utility assistance through December 2022, providing 244,000 payments to households in Puerto Rico facing the threat of eviction. Additionally, thousands of homeowners are getting help through ARP’s Homeowner Assistance Fund, and ARP funds have also helped 750 childcare programs stay open.
To boost workers and small businesses across the island, ARP significantly expanded Puerto Rico’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), quadrupling benefits for workers through the first-ever federal investment in Puerto Rico’s EITC since the credit was established nearly 50 years ago. In addition, ARP invested in job training and economic development through an Economic Development Administration Good Jobs Challenge grant, awarded to UnidosUS to train Puerto Ricans for quality jobs in the growing construction and aerospace industries. Lastly, the Biden-Harris Administration delivered over $30 million in ARP funds to protect the earned pension benefits of 2,600 workers and retirees covered by the Gastronomical Workers Union Local 610 and Metropolitan Hotel Association Pension Fund based out of San Juan.
To stimulate economic activity, the Small Business Administration (SBA) expanded their network of business assistance programs by funding two Women’s Business Centers serving female founders, investing $1 million in a Community Navigator pilot program for economic recovery, and licensing two Small Business Investment Companies to promote startup investment capital in Puerto Rico. SBA also provided over $6 billion in low-interest loans, economic relief, and grants to small businesses in Puerto Rico during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in April 2023, the Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund awarded $226 million to 69 credit unions and one loan fund in Puerto Rico through the Equitable Recovery Program.
Expanded Access to Federal Resources for Rural Communities
The Department of Agriculture announced the expansion of the Rural Partners Network (RPN) to Puerto Rico in November 2022. Only 10 states and Puerto Rico benefit from this all-of-government program to help rural communities access federal resources to create jobs, build infrastructure, and support local economic development projects. RPN includes 16 communities: Mayagüez, Maricao, Guanica, Utuado, Jayuya, Ciales, Orocovis, Villalba, Ponce, Adjuntas, Barranquitas, Coamo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, and El Yunque National Forest. These communities are receiving full-time, permanent federal staff to help address challenges from rebuilding deteriorated infrastructure to improving housing conditions and providing services to a growing senior population.
Prioritized the Wellbeing of Puerto Rico’s Children and Families
With the support of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, the Puerto Rico Department of the Family (PRDoF) and the University of Puerto Rico signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in March 2023 that outlines a 5-year plan to provide $2.5 million in annual scholarships for 214 undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in social work, beginning in fall 2023. The MOU will also help PRDoF retain qualified social workers and attract talent by using Title IV-E funds to pay tuitions and increase staff salaries. In addition, ARP’s expansion of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allowed 97 Puerto Rico colleges and universities to provide financial assistance to over 213,000 students in 2021 alone.
President Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation to transition Puerto Rico from the current capped NAP federal nutrition block grant, which is insufficient to meet the island’s needs, to the SNAP program used by other states. To prepare for a transition, the Department of Agriculture held 4 state exchange visits in 2022 for Puerto Rico officials to learn about SNAP operations; contracted for translation of handbooks, guides, and relevant SNAP materials into Spanish; and supported Puerto Rico’s efforts to give NAP participants access to job training and support services similar to what is required under SNAP. The work to support the transition continues throughout 2023.
Protected Communities from Environmental, Health and Geological Threats
The Biden-Harris Administration continues to advance sustainable economic development in Puerto Rico while protecting communities from environmental and health threats. During his Journey to Justice tour in July 2022, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan heard firsthand from environmentally vulnerable communities across Puerto Rico. He pledged that EPA would take action to address the disproportionate impacts of pollution in Salinas, Guayama, the Caño Martin Peña, and the San Juan Bay Estuary System; challenges with access to clean drinking water in rural communities; and landfill and solid waste management issues.
To deliver these results, EPA has already announced more than $185 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding to provide clean and safe water across Puerto Rico. For the first time, small rural communities not served by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority will have a chance to receive federal funding for their local drinking water systems. EPA also announced a $1.6 million investment to begin the process of cleaning up and redeveloping brownfield sites in the municipalities of Aibonito, Aguas Buenas, Corozal, and Las Piedras, in addition to millions of dollars in BIL funds for the clean-up of superfund sites, including the Pesticides Warehouse III, Corozal Well, and Cidra Groundwater Contamination sites. In November 2022, EPA announced the San the Juan Bay Estuary Partnership will receive more than $4.5 million over five years for a management and restoration project focused on communities with environmental justice concerns. And in April 2023, EPA selected the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico to serve as an Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center, receiving at least $10 million to help communities across Puerto Rico access federal funds.
In February 2023, the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced more than $1 million to conduct the first-ever high-resolution airborne magnetic and radiometric surveys over Puerto Rico and surrounding waters. The resulting data will be used by USGS, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and other groups to improve knowledge of geologic hazards, such as earthquakes and landslides. This funding builds on the ongoing resiliency work that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland amplified during her visit to Puerto Rico in November 2022.
Invested in Major Public Infrastructure Projects
The Biden-Harris Administration is investing unprecedented resources to rebuild America’s infrastructure. To this end, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) established in April 2023 the “Task Force Virgin Islands Puerto Rico,” whose dedicated staff and resources will provide oversight, leadership, and management for the execution of important projects, including the Caño Martín Peña and the Rio Puerto Nuevo projects. This year, the Army Corps is launching phase one of a $163 million Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investment to dredge over two miles of the Caño Martin Peña, plant 35 acres of mangroves, and build recreational amenities. The Puerto Rico government invested an additional $130 million in American Rescue Plan funds for the project, which will benefit over 26,000 residents settled along the tidal channel, significantly improving health, safety, and opportunity by reducing residents’ frequent contact with polluted floodwaters. In June 2023, the Army Corps awarded a dredging contract to improve commercial navigation in San Juan Harbor, which was funded in part through an over $45.5 million Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investment. And in December 2022, the Army Corps broke ground on the first of a series of contracts for the Rio Puerto Nuevo Flood Damage Reduction Project. When completed, this $2.7 billion project will reduce severe flood risk for thousands of homes, commercial, and public buildings in San Juan.
The Biden-Harris Administration is also expanding Puerto Rico’s transportation infrastructure. Since September 2022, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded several new grants, including $90 million for roadway improvements and a new expressway on Interstate PR-2 in Mayaguez; nearly $1.6 million for a planning study to reconnect communities in Santurce, San Juan, divided by the Baldorioty de Castro Expressway; and a $220,000 Safe Streets for All grant to develop an action plan to prevent accidents in San Juan. In April 2023, DOT selected the municipality of Isabela to receive a Thriving Communities grant for technical assistance to deliver transportation investments.
Put Hurricane Fiona Disaster Response Funds to Work
In 2022, Hurricane Fiona made landfall just two days ahead of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, devastating the southern region of Puerto Rico. Immediately, the Biden-Harris Administration mobilized to support recovery efforts. On October 3, President Biden visited the city of Ponce to reaffirm the federal government’s unwavering support, declaring: “I want the people of Puerto Rico to know I’m committed, my entire Administration is committed to standing with you every step of the way as long as it takes.”
In response to the Hurricane Fiona disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved more than $891 million in emergency funds for Puerto Rico, including more than $636 million in grants to support nearly 740,000 households. In addition, FEMA’s Public Assistance funding to reimburse communities for emergency work and permanent repairs topped over $146 million. FEMA opened 43 Disaster Recovery Centers in affected areas, meeting with more than 169,000 disaster survivors to help them access federal recovery programs, while Disaster Survivor Assistance teams visited nearly 51,000 homes and made over 35,000 calls to offer guidance, help with applications for federal assistance, and ensure those who were eligible for help received it. These outreach efforts resulted in $10 million in additional assistance for impacted households.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $166 million for Hurricane Fiona recovery and the February 2022 floods and landslides. HUD also worked with the Puerto Rico Public Housing Authority to rehouse displaced families and clean flooded units. HUD’s field office in San Juan offered affected municipalities assistance to assess and address post-Fiona priority needs, immediately announced a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, and provided resources for homeowner relief. Additionally, HUD quickly granted regulatory flexibilities to enable municipal governments to replace flooded affordable housing units with new construction and fund essential services such as food, water, and emergency shelter. The Small Business Administration (SBA) also stepped in to support Puerto Rico’s critical small business ecosystem, approving more than $106 million in disaster loans for 3,527 small businesses, homeowners, renters, and nonprofits.
Hurricane Fiona damaged various transmission, distribution, and generation components of Puerto Rico’s power system, resulting in additional demands on an already fragile grid. To counter this threat to life, health, and safety, FEMA, the Department of Energy, EPA, and Army Corps of Engineers established the Puerto Rico Power System Stabilization Task Force in October 2022 to support the Puerto Rico government’s efforts to stabilize the grid, perform required maintenance, and meet customer demand. The Task Force is in the process of contracting 350MW of temporary power generation to provide additional capacity for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to continue long-term recovery work from Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and the 2020 earthquakes. The Palo Seco Power Plant was selected as the first site to come online with temporary power generation units of approximately 150MW. An additional 200MW of temporary generation at other facilities is planned to be operational by the peak of the 2023 hurricane season. These actions will support ongoing repairs to the existing power system, a prerequisite for a successful transition to renewable energy infrastructure.
Maximized and Streamlined Disaster Recovery Funds
Building on the release of billions of dollars in Hurricane Maria recovery funds held back by the Trump Administration, the Biden-Harris Administration continues to work closely with the Puerto Rico government to streamline and accelerate spending. To date, FEMA has obligated more than $30 billion to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria and the 2020 earthquakes.
Additionally, HUD has obligated over $19 billion in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to assist Puerto Rico in rebuilding inclusive, resilient communities. Initial outcomes include over 5,000 homes repaired; 24 multifamily projects approved for funding; 6,000 displaced renters becoming homeowners; over 3,000 existing small businesses receiving support to recover and grow; over 1,500 new small businesses created through the Small Business Incubators and Accelerators Program; and nearly 2,500 individuals receiving job training to seize new workforce opportunities. These funds are also authorized to cover the 10 percent local funding share required to complete FEMA projects.
FEMA’s funding obligations include nearly $4.5 billion for Hurricane Maria recovery from January 2022 to April 2023, representing more than 2,620 projects to rebuild roads, schools, recreational facilities, and more, with about $937 million of these funds directly financing municipal projects. To build resilience, about 88 percent of FEMA Public Assistance projects contain funding for activities like weatherproofing and installing storm-resistant features. During this same period, FEMA allocated another $370 million primarily to repair and rebuild public buildings impacted by the 2020 earthquakes, building on resources awarded in 2022 under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to seismically retrofit up to 55 schools at a cost of approximately $150 million. HUD also allocated nearly $185 million for earthquake recovery in 2022 and approved immediate access to a portion of these funds to speed the Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s recovery efforts.
To further accelerate recovery projects across Puerto Rico, FEMA worked with the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resiliency (COR3) in 2022 to raise the share of project costs covered under the Working Capital Advance program from 25 to 50 percent, giving Puerto Rico’s municipalities, government agencies, and nonprofits more liquidity to initiate construction contracts.
Restoring and hardening Puerto Rico’s energy grid remains a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration, with over $12 billion in Hurricane Maria recovery funding dedicated to building a more resilient and sustainable grid and providing access to good quality jobs. In February 2022, the Department of Energy (DOE), HUD, the Department of Homeland Security (which includes FEMA), and the Puerto Rico government signed a memorandum of understanding to maximize federal investments and accelerate work to strengthen the grid. This agreement kickstarted the Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transition to 100% Renewable (PR100) Study, financed with Hurricane Maria recovery funds and with the technical support of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and five other national laboratories. PR100 is a community-driven roadmap to help Puerto Rico meet its target of 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and increase energy resilience and affordability. In January 2023, DOE and FEMA released the PR100 one-year progress report and hosted a webinar in which Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, and Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi outlined their shared commitment to building resilient infrastructure and creating clean energy solutions. And in March 2023, Secretary Granholm conducted her fourth visit to Puerto Rico, as part of the PR100 Community Engagement Tour.
In October 2022, President Biden committed to deploying more resources from DOE and other federal agencies to expedite the transformation of Puerto Rico’s energy system. To facilitate this effort, he tasked Secretary Granholm to lead the Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team, which includes DOE, HUD, FEMA, the Department of Agriculture, EPA, and Department of Commerce, working in collaboration with Fortaleza, the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resiliency (COR3), Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, LUMA Energy, Genera PR, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau, and other stakeholders.
With $1 billion from the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, DOE established the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund for residential rooftop solar deployment, energy resilience, non-profit partnerships, and clean energy workforce training. DOE expects to announce a formal request for proposals in summer 2023 with the goal of rapidly deploying residential rooftop solar and storage for vulnerable households, including individuals with disabilities. In support of Puerto Rico’s transition to renewable energy, DOE selected Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña in Utuado, in partnership with Fundación Borincana and Pecan Street, to receive a $200,000 Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize to facilitate rooftop solar and storage installation. DOE’s 2023 Clean Energy Innovator Fellowship will also support six recent graduates and energy professionals to work on clean energy projects at Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, as well as the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau and LUMA Energy.
Finally, the Puerto Rico government invested American Rescue Plan funds to provide Puerto Rico businesses up to $25,000 in incentives to cover the cost of green energy and energy conservation projects. And FEMA announced the approval of the first phase of a $97 million Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority project to design a new solar-powered microgrid system for Vieques and Culebra, utilizing Hurricane Maria recovery funding.