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Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth for Puerto Rico Urges Quick Action on Medicaid, Highlights Inequalities Between Puerto Rico and States

The Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico has released its final report, recommending legislation in early 2017 to address an impending Medicaid “cliff” on the island as well as an expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) in Puerto Rico, a closer look at inequities throughout the federal government and careful consideration by Congress of any plebiscite held in Puerto Rico under federal law.

“I want to thank my fellow Task Force members for working together in a spirit of bipartisanship to produce this report, which I genuinely believe is the most comprehensive and constructive document that the federal government has ever prepared on Puerto Rico,” said Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi.

“This report will serve as a blueprint for action for the next Resident Commissioner and the next Congress as a whole.  I think it is a fitting capstone to my congressional career,” added Pierluisi, who will leave office this year.

Task Force member Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) stated, “I am proud that the Task Force has worked on a strong bipartisan basis and I believe our report is a down payment on future actions that Congress and the Trump Administration should take to improve federal programs on the island and treat Puerto Ricans more equitably under the law.”

“Congress should give serious consideration to providing the island with equal treatment under all federal laws and programs,” Duffy explained.  “At the same time, there is no federal substitute for good governance on the island.  In order for Puerto Rico to reemerge from its current situation, its leaders must make the hard choices that they have been unwilling to make and work cooperatively with the Oversight Board to balance budgets and grow its economy, starting with a five-year fiscal plan.”

With respect to Medicaid, the lead item in the report, the Task Force recommended that Congress enact fiscally-responsible legislation in early 2017 to address the impending Medicaid “cliff” so that the Puerto Rico Medicaid agency—ASES—can engage with more certainty when formulating capitation payment contracts with its managed care organizations.  The Task Force further recommended that federal financing of the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico and the other territories should be more closely tied to the size and needs of the territory’s low-income population.

The Task Force recommended various steps to improve Puerto Rico’s treatment under Medicare, including that Congress amend federal law so that Medicare beneficiaries in Puerto Rico are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B with the option to opt out of coverage, the same way their counterparts in every state and other territory are treated.

In another key recommendation, the report suggested that Congress authorize families in Puerto Rico with one or two children to claim the federal child tax credit (CTC), just as island families with three or more children in Puerto Rico are currently able to claim the credit.

An appendix to the report describes 40 federal programs in which the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are treated differently than their fellow citizens in the states because Puerto Rico is a territory and not a state.

The report concludes with a recommendation on resolving Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory, noting that if the government of Puerto Rico conducts a plebiscite authorized under Federal Law, Congress should “analyze the result of this plebiscite with care and seriousness of purpose, and take any appropriate legislative action.”

Kenneth McClintock, former Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State of Puerto Rico under Governor Luis Fortuño  and Puerto Rico Senate President, who now serves as President of the Puerto Rico Equality Form (PREF), pointed out that the Task Force recommendations emphasized solutions that would survive an impending political status change.  “While the road to recovery is long and steep,” McClintock noted, “the report provides a roadmap to guide Puerto Rico and the nation to the final goal of full equality.”

The Task Force was established by Section 409 of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, which became law on June 30, 2016.

The Task Force was composed of eight U.S. senators and representatives.  It was chaired by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  The other members were Rep. Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-New York), Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin), Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-New Jersey), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey).




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