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  • Writer's pictureJulio Ricardo Varela

Sembrando Sentido Launches New Initiative to Track Federal Funding in Puerto Rico

El Maní in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane María (September 20, 2017/	National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Public Domain)
El Maní in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, immediately after Hurricane María (September 20, 2017/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Public Domain)

This morning, I received the following media release from Sembrando Sentido, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes "transparency, accountability and civic participation in Puerto Rico." Ever since I started writing online 20 years ago, I have always used my platform to share work and news out of Puerto Rico that I consider important. Sembrando Sentido is a nonpartisan organization that is doing important work in trying to change where Puerto Rico goes next. The issue of transparency and funding for Puerto Rico —particularly when it comes to money from the federal government— is a topic that needs more attention. With that in mind, here is the full media release. More at Also, if you want to share any news out of Puerto Rico, contact me here.

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) Sembrando Sentido, a leading advocate for public participation and transparency in Puerto Rico, announced a new Initiative geared towards developing a Federal Funding and Impact Tracker. The announcement took place during the 2024 Census Open Innovative Labs Summit and marks substantial progress in identifying existing challenges tracking federal funds and setting a vision for transparency and participation that enables a just, environmentally sustainable, and equitable recovery.

Situated on the front lines of climate catastrophe, Puerto Rico needs to foster strategic public investments to secure a robust and sustainable reconstruction that prioritizes at-risk communities. Six years after the catastrophic impact of Hurricanes Irma and María, and despite the allocation of over $127 billion in federal funding, monitoring recovery efforts and pinpointing lingering needs remains an incredibly challenging task. Lack of information limits the government's ability to understand local needs, oversee progress, avoid duplication and gaps, and identify policy changes required to improve outcomes. It further reduces citizens’ ability to understand and participate in the critical funding decisions that directly impact their communities.

As the climate crisis continues to worsen nationally and globally, federal funding for climate adaptation and recovery is expected to grow, and guardrails for better stewardship must follow suit. The Federal Funding and Impact Tracker would provide information to become a powerful advocacy instrument, by helping communities understand where the funding is directed, what achievements have been made, and where changes are needed. As such, the tool would be positioned to increase visibility around local social, economic, and environmental conditions and needs, shape and inform program design, planning, and execution processes, and close capacity gaps within local and state governments by enabling a more inclusive and community-driven approach to Puerto Rico's recovery. The initiative also aspires to set a national standard for transparent and equitable funds distribution. The Initiative is led in collaboration with PolicyLink and backed by multi-year financial support, as well as other contributions from Magic Cabinet and 1.5 Climate Strategies Group.

Issel Masses, Sembrando Sentido’s Founder and Executive Director, emphasized that “while we have identified hundreds of portals with relevant funding information, the information is not interconnected, is often incomplete, and resides in formats that are both hard to access and comprehend. This limits our ability to derive meaningful insights that can help inform policy changes. Without addressing these challenges and fostering cross-sectoral collaborations to resolve them, while simultaneously enhancing data capacity, our ability to effectively 'follow the money' and ensure equitable outcomes will only deteriorate."

By harnessing collaborations with PolicyLink, the US Census Bureau, and other partners facilitated through The Opportunity Project (TOP), Sembrando Sentido has made significant progress in assessing available data, identifying existing data limitations and gaps, and developing a collaborative roadmap and vision for an accessible tracking tool.

Sembrando Sentido’s work began focused on strengthening public contracting practices in Puerto Rico, as it represents over 50% of the government's budget, is one of the areas with the highest risk of corruption, and, therefore, the greatest opportunity for savings and improvements in reconstruction and service delivery.

From carrying out the first comprehensive evaluation of public contracting in Puerto Rico, to increasing transparency of contracting by 350% through the development of the open contracting and red flags platform, and evaluating contracting processes with CDBG-DR funds in Puerto Rico, the organization works to promote better, more inclusive and equitable contracting practices, effective public financial management, and anti-corruption and open government reform.

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