The COVID-19 response bill that U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released this afternoon as an alternative to the bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the third major piece of response legislation proposes up to approximately $1.4 billion a year in additional assistance for Puerto Ricans.
The territory and its residents and other territories and their residents would be treated equally under the bill that Pelosi said she would ask the House to pass if Senate Republicans did not accede to Democratic demands for changes in the McConnell bill. The Pelosi-released bill would provide residents of the territories and the rest of the Nation with more assistance than the McConnell bill.
In addition, the House Democratic bill would do the following, just for territories to treat them more equally with the States in programs in which they are not treated equally now:
- Treat Puerto Ricans equally in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) program, which the bill would make fully “refundable;” i.e., not dependent upon income tax liability. Currently, only Puerto Rican workers with three or more children qualify for the refundable portion of the Additional Child Tax Credit program, which makes CTC payments to workers to the extent that they do not have an income tax liability. The payments can be based on Social Security tax payments, which is the basis for the current payments to residents of Puerto Rico. Workers with any number of children in the States can qualify. Based upon an earlier congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate, the provision could result in payments to Puerto Ricans totaling up to about $600 million per year. CTC equality for Puerto Ricans is a priority for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) as well as Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R/New Progressive party-PNP).
- Grant the Government of Puerto Rico up to $600 million a year for its new Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program. The grants would be three times the amount that the territory budgets for the program up to $200 million a year. A recent JCT estimate also said that this could give the territory $600 million a year. The Obama Administration initially proposed similar grants along with the legislation that became PROMESA but did not push the idea. It is a priority for Puerto Rico’s Center for a New Economy and for which Gonzalez-Colon and Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced (PNP) have also worked.
- Appropriate $200 million for the special nutrition assistance programs for Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The vast majority of the funds would go to Puerto Rico with a population of an estimates at least 3.15 million. The other two territories have a combined population of some 120,000. The programs are alternatives to the much more generous Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “Food Stamps”) from which Puerto Rico was excluded after initial inclusion. Gonzalez-Colon and Vazquez Garced have also been seeking this funding.
A Senate vote this afternoon to proceed to consideration of its COVID-19 proposal failed. The measure received 49 votes, 11 short of the number needed to advance. White House and congressional leaders continue to negotiate, but the failed vote is the second time in two days that Democrats stopped the effort to advance a stimulus package that provides almost $2 trillion to stimulate the economy and assist troubled households, businesses, and healthcare providers.