Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Serrano, Velazquez, and Gillibrand Urge Education Department to Revise Burdensome Disaster Funding Application Process

Apr 6, 2018
Press Release
Bipartisan, Bi-Cameral Letter Expresses Concern that Process Will Likely Prevent Institutions of Higher Education in Puerto Rico From Accessing Critical Disaster Funding Already Appropriated by Congress

New York City – Today, Congressman José E. Serrano, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez led a bi-partisan, bi-cameral letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging critical revisions to the proposed process for institutions of higher education (IHE’s) in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma to access disaster relief funding appropriated to the Department. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a notice in the Federal Register requiring IHE’s to complete an overly burdensome application process in order to access millions in critical funding passed by Congress nearly seven weeks ago.  

According to some estimates, the process could take up to 40 hours to complete. The Department also did not make the forms available in Spanish, the predominant language spoken in Puerto Rico, as it had previously done. In addition, members expressed deep concerns about the pre-application criteria requiring institutions to provide exact funding amounts received and reimbursed in order to determine how to allocate funding. Given the federal government’s slow dispersal of funds in continuing recovery efforts, this would further disadvantage IHE’s in Puerto Rico.

Congressman Serrano said: “Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other areas are still in crisis after Hurricanes Maria and Irma. This Administration should be making it easier for interested parties to access federal assistance, not putting unnecessary obstacles in their way.  Massive amounts of paperwork that can take up to 40 hours to complete in an environment where many education institutions and people on the island still don’t have access to electricity and safe drinking water is complete nonsense. Perhaps more baffling is the fact that this amount of requirement is unprecedented and unjustified. These are funds approved by Congress for one specific reason, helping the people of Puerto Rico and other territories in a time of dire need. The Department should immediately revise these policies and, while at it, look into what type of policies it can implement to help institutions access and use these funds as quickly as possible.”

Congresswoman Velázquez said: “It is incomprehensible that the Department of Education would be making it harder for assistance to reach the people of Puerto Rico who are still suffering more than six months after Maria. Whether this is intentional or bureaucratic incompetence, it needs to end immediately.  Congress intended these funds to be swiftly distributed, not slowed down by mountains of red tape.”    

“It’s now been 7 months since Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, and thousands of Americans still don’t have access to the most basic resources,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We should be making it as easy as possible for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to access the federal resources they need to fully recover, but this decision by Secretary DeVos is instead going to make it much harder. I urge Secretary DeVos to do the right thing, reverse this decision, and eliminate the red tape that is preventing these islands from getting back on their feet. I was proud to lead this bipartisan letter, and I will always stand with our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.”

“We believe that the Department’s proposal to require applicants to fill out immense amounts of paperwork for disaster relief funds is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s failure to prioritize Puerto Rico. Under separate authority provided by Congress under the Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017, the Department provided just one-fifth of all reallocated campus-based aid to Puerto Rico despite the disproportionate damage to the territory.[1] The Department has also failed to respond to repeated requests to release the reallocation methodology used to distribute these funds,” the members wrote.

House Co-signers (37): *Serrano, *Velázquez, Bishop (GA), Blunt Rochester, Boyle, Brown, Castor, Clark, Crowley, DeLauro, DeSaulnier, Ellison, Espaillat, Gonzalez, González-Colón, Grijalva, Gutiérrez, Hastings, Jayapal, Kaptur, Khanna, Lawson, Lee, Carolyn Maloney, Meng, McGovern, Moore, Nadler, Norcross, Norton, Roybal-Allard, Scott (VA), Shea-Porter, Takano, Torres, Vargas, Wilson (FL)

Senate Co-signers (9): *Gillibrand, Warren, Murphy, Sanders, Booker, Blumenthal, Menéndez, Brown, Harris

Supported By: American Federation of Teachers (AFT)


[1] Congressional analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. Release: DeVos Announces Additional Funds to Support Students at Colleges and Universities Impacted by Hurricanes. March 13, 2018. https://go.usa.gov/xQCM3

FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER: