Schumer, Warren, Rep. Velázquez Lead Democratic Lawmakers In Expressing Concern About The Department Of Education’s Conditions Imposed Upon Puerto Rico’s Access To Governor’s Education Emergency Relief And Elementary And Secondary Emergency Relief Funding

June 4, 2020

Washington, D.C.— Led by United States Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), 29 Members of Congress wrote the Department of Education in expressing concern on the conditions imposed upon Puerto Rico’s access to Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. The lawmakers ask that the Department use its authority to immediately disburse funding to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and Puerto Rico’s Department of Education (PRDE).

The lawmakers wrote in the letter: “In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic Puerto Rico is simultaneously recovering from a number of natural disasters including Hurricanes Irma and Maria. While Puerto Rico has taken careful and appropriate measures to manage the impact of coronavirus, the global pandemic could compound the effects of these disasters and for this reason, the timely release of ESSER and GEER funding is of utmost importance to ensure access to quality education.”

In addition to Schumer, Warren, and Velázquez, the letter is signed by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Representatives Jose Serrano (D-NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rosa DeLaura (D-CT), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), John Lewis (D-GA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Jaime Raskin (D-MD), Darren Soto (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Andre Carson (D-IN), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX).

You may find the letter here and below:

 

June 3, 2020

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,

We write to express our concern about the Department of Education’s (“the Department”) conditions imposed upon Puerto Rico’s access to Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. We ask that the Department use its authority to immediately disburse funding to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and Puerto Rico’s Department of Education (PRDE).

In a letter to the Department on May 18, Governor Vázquez Garced outlined the importance of ESSER and GEER funding to the 295,000 students in Puerto Rico. The governor also detailed the steps that Puerto Rico would take to work with the Department to access this funding. Puerto Rico’s students cannot afford any further delay and we are troubled by the potential lasting impact of the Department’s delays and inaction on this issue.

As you may know, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic Puerto Rico is simultaneously recovering from a number of natural disasters including Hurricanes Irma and Maria. While Puerto Rico has taken careful and appropriate measures to manage the impact of coronavirus, the global pandemic could compound the effects of these disasters and for this reason, the timely release of ESSER and GEER funding is of utmost importance to ensure access to quality education.

Puerto Rico qualifies for $349,113,000 in ESSER funding and $47,812,316 in GEER funding under the CARES Act, but has been denied access to both of these funds. Congress passed the CARES Act in March with the intent that education funding be disbursed expediently to governors and local education authorities to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus. The Department has acknowledged the need for expediency in its own guidance[1] documents[2] and communications with governors[3] and commissioners[4]

Imposing additional preconditions not contained in the CARES Act on PRDE before disbursement goes against Congressional intent. Almost 300,000 children in Puerto Rico have been outside of formal classrooms for almost three months. Moreover, kids from the southern part of the island struck by the earthquakes have not been able to attend school since January of this year. The children of Puerto Rico cannot wait any longer.  We cannot expect them to recover if we continue to impose hurdles to doing so. That should not be the role of the Department or these emergency dollars.

We understand that the PRDE is in negotiations with a third party fiduciary agent (TFPA) as outlined by the Department’s FY2019 Specific Conditions letter. This process is separate from ESSER and GEER funding disbursement and should not be altered, provided how significant the imposition of a TFPA will be for years to come.

We ask that the Department consider Puerto Rico’s unique circumstances and immediately cease any additional preconditions to, or delays in, disbursing GEER and ESSER funding.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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