Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services & Education took advantage of a recent congressional hearing to emphasize the need for more financial support for Puerto Rico.
Using her allocated time for questions, Rep. Rosa DeLauro carefully made her point. “Let me mention Puerto Rico if I can,” she started. “I want to take the time to acknowledge the continue struggles of children in Puerto Rico. They have been really dealing with trying to recover from earthquakes, from all kinds of disasters, still from Hurricane Maria. I have been told, and will look into this, that kids are going to school in tents. I don’t know if you’ve been or your staff has been to the island, but I would ask could you do that and to see these conditions. And really to urge the administration to support the House supplemental bill. It’s really imperative.”
This is the second time during a series of hearings about the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget that the senior member of the House Appropriations Committee used the Committee platform to advocate for a more compassionate response for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that has faced several serious natural disasters since 2017.
Earlier this month, DeLauro expressed concern that there has been a disproportionate amount of attention paid to Puerto Rico’s capped nutrition assistance program relative to lax oversight of the Trump administration’s $28 billion trade assistance package for farmers.
“That bailout is over 20 times more than the $1.27 billion in basic food assistance that we appropriated to Puerto Rico, yet it has received far less scrutiny,” she remarked. “Why is that?”
Phyllis K. Fong, USDA Inspector General, responded that her office was aware of the issues Rep. DeLauro mentioned. DeLauro persisted, “You had all of 2018 and 2019 and you all can’t investigate waste and fraud in a $28 billion program, but boy did you go after… $1.27 billion in basic food aid to Puerto Rico.”
The American Families Act
DeLauro is also sponsor of the American Families Act, legislation that expands the Child Tax Credit (CTC) within the fifty states. The DeLauro proposal would also bring Puerto Rico equally into the CTC program, covering all children in Puerto Rico families. Under current law, families in Puerto Rico do not qualify until they have their third child.
The American Families Act structures the CTC so that benefits are given to the governor of Puerto Rico for subsequent distribution to families. This structure has proven to be unworkable in the past, as the federal funding never reaches the people of Puerto Rico.
Notably, families residing in Puerto Rico qualify for the federal American opportunity tax credit (AOTC) to help pay for college, but they are currently unable to access the annual credit of up to $1,000 in Puerto Rico. This is because the Puerto Rico government and U.S. Treasury must agree on a plan for distribution but have not done so.
According to a March 27, 2019 advisory from the Internal Revenue Service, any taxpayer who has qualified education expanses must wait for Hacienda instructions before they receive this benefit.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax law, built on the DeLauro proposal but restructured its Puerto Rico Child Tax Credit provision so that the tax refund goes directly to the taxpayers, just as it does in the states. That proposal, which is identical to a bill introduced by Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Menendez (D-NJ) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in early February as part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief and Puerto Rico Disaster Tax Relief Act.
The emergency supplemental bill awaits Senate consideration.