Disaster Relief Funding for Puerto Rico Remains Elusive

On December 18, 2017, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) detailing her requests for disaster relief for Puerto Rico.

The Resident Commissioner’s requests in her December 18 letter have gone unanswered, but Congress may act before the end of next week to provide disaster relief to Puerto Rico and other affected areas.

Prime among the Resident Commissioner’s requests was funding for Medicaid, a joint federal-state health program that provides medical services for low-income individuals. Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, known locally as Mi Salud, has about 1.4 million enrollees, which is over 40 percent of the island’s population.

In her letter to Chairman Frelinghuysen, the Resident Commissioner requested the federal government to cover 100% of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid costs for two years, and, after that, for three years at the current funding level of $1.6 billion per year.

In 2005, the federal government, under the direction of President George W. Bush, picked up 100 percent of Medicaid costs related to Katrina survivors,

Federal Medicaid funding to the states and the District of Columbia is unlimited as long as the state covers its share of costs.  In Puerto Rico and the other territories, federal Medicaid funding is subject to an annual limit.  Once the annual federal funding cap is reached, the territory government is responsible for the remaining cost of all Medicaid services. The annual limit on federal Medicaid funding in Puerto Rico is so low that it has lost out on billions of dollars over the years that it would have received had it been a state.

In October, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sent his own letter to Congress requesting Medicaid funding for the U.S. territory, and in April, Rep. Nydia Velazquez sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan asking for “immediate congressional action to address the funding crisis facing Puerto Rico’s health care system.”  She was joined by 73 of her Democratic colleagues, including all of the Democrats in New York’s congressional delegation.

Political maneuvering over Puerto Rico’s needed Medicaid funding was reportedly one of the reasons the U.S. territory was largely left out of disaster relief package passed by the House of Representatives in December.

Today Senators Rubio (R-FL), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and John Kennedy (R-LA) wrote to Senate leadership urging immediate consideration of disaster relief.  It remains to be seen when Congress with consider the legislation and if Puerto Rico Medicaid relief will be included, but it is possible that it will be on the congressional agenda before next Friday, when  funding for the federal government expires.  Congress is expected to continue the needed federal funding, but it is unclear whether it was enact legislation to help areas impacted by the natural disasters of 2017.





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