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Fact Sheet: The Basics of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program in Puerto Rico

Release date: 
April 3, 2019
Release Number: 
FS 054

Note: This version updates Fact Sheet 52 by addressing recent changes in the PA process.

What is Public Assistance?

Public Assistance reimburses the Government of Puerto Rico, local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for removing disaster-generated debris, the cost of preparing for and responding to the disaster and repairing or replacing eligible disaster-damaged infrastructure including roads, bridges, buildings and utilities.

Below describes what happens in Puerto Rico when a government agency or nonprofit applies for reimbursement through Public Assistance.

What’s Eligible

Projects that may be eligible for reimbursement include repairing or replacing disaster-damaged facilities and infrastructure, debris removal and emergency protective measures taken to protect lives and ensure public safety.

Public Assistance also encourages protection of these damaged facilities by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures to protect them from future damage. The additional funding must be cost-effective and reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from disasters.

Expenses that are not disaster-related are not eligible for reimbursement.

What’s the Process

FEMA must assess the government agency’s, municipality’s or nonprofit’s claim for reimbursement before making an eligibility determination. A process is in place to ensure that federal eligibility requirements for disaster-related reimbursement projects are satisfied, this includes evaluating whether:

The applicant is eligible

The facility is eligible

The work is eligible

The costs are eligible

Identify Damage

To begin the process, government agencies, municipalities and nonprofit organizations are responsible for identifying all the facilities damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Site Visits

Local, Government of Puerto Rico and FEMA representatives visit sites to document disaster damage.

Developing Specifics

The government agency or nonprofit works with the Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery and Reconstruction, or COR3, and FEMA to detail the scope of work to repair or replace disaster-damaged facilities and develop project costs.

COR3 is a branch of the Government of Puerto Rico that promotes and implements reconstruction efforts. It is also the official FEMA federal grant award recipient.

All work must comply with local, Government of Puerto Rico and federal regulations and executive orders, including those related to environmental planning and historic preservation.

Importance of Submitting Documents

For work that is already completed, government agencies, municipalities and nonprofits need to submit documents so FEMA can make an eligibility determination. These include labor records, list of equipment used and maintenance records.

Applicants that used contractors should also submit copies of contracts and invoices.

For work that is not yet completed, estimates are created based on the government agency’s, municipality’s or nonprofit’s labor policies, procurement policies, historic contracts, local pricing and best practices. Documentation is important because it supports the applicants’ claims before FEMA may approve cost estimates for disaster-related expenses.

A FEMA representative works with the government agency, municipality or nonprofit to submit documentation that answers eligibility questions.

Obligating Money

FEMA may proceed to obligate money to reimburse eligible disaster-related costs only after validating that the applicable eligibility criteria are met.

FEMA obligates funding for eligible projects to the applicant through COR3.

How Government Agencies, Nonprofits Get Money

FEMA never directly pays government agencies, municipalities and nonprofits that apply for Public Assistance.

Instead, FEMA provides Public Assistance funds to COR3, which is then responsible for disbursing the money to applicants.

Since Public Assistance is a reimbursement program, all applicants must provide documentation such as invoices, contracts and payroll to COR3 before they receive obligated funds. Before it approves disbursing payments, COR3 reviews documentation to ensure that all of the applicant’s claimed costs are supported and are aligned with the scope of funds awarded.

FEMA and COR3 representatives remain in constant communication with applicants throughout the process. This collaboration creates transparency about the Public Assistance process, educates applicants on what documents need to be submitted and maximizes the amount of eligible federal recovery funds each applicant may receive.

How Much Does FEMA Pay

The federal share paid for eligible Public Assistance projects in Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria recovery is not less than 90 percent of the eligible cost. COR3 determines how the remaining nonfederal cost share is paid.

FEMA authorized 100 percent funding of emergency work—debris removal and emergency protective measures—for the first eight months of the declared event with zero cost to the Government of Puerto Rico. Given the magnitude of the hurricanes, FEMA extended 100 percent cost share through the following dates:

Emergency protective measures: May 18, 2018

Debris removal: June 17, 2018

Emergency power restoration: Aug. 16, 2018

Tu Hogar Renace: Sept. 15, 2018

Now that the emergency phase has ended, the federal cost share for all eligible projects is now 90 percent.

Capped Grants

Capped grants allow applicants to share funding across all eligible Public Assistance projects as if it were a single grant.

Applicants may benefit from capped grants because it gives them more flexible use of funding and streamlines the administrative process.

When final actual recovery costs are less than what FEMA approves, applicants may use excess funds from capped grants for other projects that reduce risk or improve preparedness. FEMA must approve projects before applicants use excess funds.

However, if the final actual costs are more than what FEMA approves, the applicant is responsible for funding the cost difference.

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Last Updated: 
April 18, 2019 - 12:19