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Democratic Senators Encourage Senate Leaders to Provide “True Disaster Relief” for Puerto Rico

A group of U.S. senators led by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has written to Senate leaders requesting them to “address the deficiencies” in House-passed disaster relief legislation and “do more to promote disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”

The letter asks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to “include adequate and long-term Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, ensure the disbursement of disaster funding to Puerto Rico is not delayed by actions of the Fiscal Oversight Board, rectify problems with the administration and oversight of Community Disaster Loans, and provide tax relief to residents of the island.”

Joining Menendez in signing the letter were the following Senators:

  • Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Tammy Duckworth (D-NY)
  • Edward Markey (D-MA)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
  • Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

The letter went into detail on the question of Medicaid funding. “Even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria Devastated Puerto Rico,” they wrote, “the island’s health care system was in dire straits, crippled by a decade-long recession and inadequate, inconsistent Medicaid funding.”

The letter points out that Puerto Rico is running out of Medicaid funding, since there is a cap — a limit on the amount of funding available — on Puerto Rico’s federal healthcare funding. If the cap on funding is not removed and federal funding is not increased, Puerto Rico will be unable to provide health care for those who need it.

The letter goes on to say that people will continue to leave Puerto Rico in large numbers if they are unable to receive health care. An even smaller island population will make it even harder for Puerto Rico to get its economy on track.

The letter also expresses concern over the role of the PROMESA fiscal oversight board. Under the previous disaster relief bill, the board was given the responsibility of approving any disaster relief expenditures over $10 million. The senators remind their readers that the oversight board was designed to help Puerto Rico reorganize debt and regain access to capitalmarkets. Disaster relief oversight was never foreseen as a job for the oversight board.

An unelected, unsupervised Board with no disaster relief experience and whose members do not reside in Puerto Rico,” the letter says, “should not be authorized to make determinations regarding how to prioritize emergency funding measures impacting the provision of medical care, how to ensure residents have the resources to rebuild their homes and businesses, and how to repair the island’s failing infrastructure.

The authors also demand that Puerto Rico’s cost sharing requirement be removed completely. “Demanding that Puerto Rico contribute money it does not have could further delay the necessary aid from reaching affected citizens.”

The letter discusses Community Disaster Loans. Funds provided to the territories under this program have been under the scrutiny of Secretaries of Treasure and Homeland Security. The letter calls this “discriminatory” and asks that this recent requirement, which delays funding, be removed. “Puerto Rico’s economic troubles have been discussed in Congress and elsewhere at great length. Its people cannot afford to be overburdened with additional debt they have no chance of repaying.

The letter also mentions the provisions of the new tax bill and asks that the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) be extended to residents of Puerto Rico equally with those of the States.

The authors further ask that the new disaster bill provide sufficient funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. Without adequate funding, they say, states and territories will be competing for limited financial support.

The letter concluded with, “We hope that you will push for a stronger disaster supplemental and provide the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with the necessary tools for true disaster relief.

Click here to read the letter.

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