Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, emphasizing the need for continued support in Puerto Rico.
The letter began with a reminder of the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and a claim that the circumstances of the disaster and its response are unique. “Never before had an entire state been impacted by a catastrophic hurricane,” the governor wrote. “Never before had the period for emergency response taken as long to cease as it did in Puerto Rico. Never before did a state have to address the challenges of the near 100% failure of its power grid, water systems, and communications infrastructure. And never before has a state been required to handle a recovery effort costing many tens of billions of dollars while concurrently being under federal oversight and facing long-term, structural financial challenges.”
Not only have circumstances been extreme, the governor said, but the requirements imposed on Puerto Rico have also made it more difficult to cope. “FEMA and the Administration put in place burdensome financial procedures that had never been used for any State or Territory before, which have proven to do little more than slow our ability to access recovery funding and delay reconstruction efforts. In an unprecedented action, Congress imposed a requirement to develop and submit a recovery plan and mandated that we obtain approval from the Federal Oversight and Management Board. And we have faced an ever-changing landscape of untested approaches, newly-crafted policies, and financial procedures that have confused and micro-managed the recovery.”
The letter goes on to emphasize the cooperation and transparency of the Island’s government, as well as the efforts being made toward renewable energy and the replanting of Puerto Rico’s forests.
“Throughout this difficult time,” Rossello wrote, “the U.S. Congress has been an instrumental partner in supporting the people of Puerto Rico who, despite being American citizens for over 100 years, still lack equal representation in the federal law-making process.”
Puerto Rico, since it is an unincorporated territory of the United States, has no voting members in Congress, and no participation in presidential votes.
“However, even with the significant support provided by Congress to date, the Recovery Plan, which was drafted in conjunction with FEMA, explicitly acknowledged that additional federal assistance will be needed to ensure that Puerto Rico can achieve a full recovery in the wake of the massive destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” the letter continues.”Therefore, as we enter the last weeks of the 115th Congress and prepare for the 116th Congress, I implore you to consider and address Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery and reconstruction needs, as outlined below, in the upcoming legislative vehicles. Time is of the essence, and continued action by Congress now is critical.”
This is followed by a request for 100% federal cost-share for recovery efforts. FEMA can demand cost-sharing, but Puerto Rico is not in a financial position to bear much of those costs. “The current fiscal situation in Puerto Rico, together with these ongoing issues, means that the withdrawal of full federal support for recovery efforts will significantly hinder the ability of Puerto Ricans to rebuild their homes, businesses, and infrastructure,” says the governor. “What Puerto Rico is requesting is not unique and does not set precedent. Both FEMA and Congress have approved long-term and permanent extensions of Category A and B funding at 100% for disasters far smaller and less impactful than the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
The letter asks for additional food support. “Puerto Rico’s nutritional assistance is less than any other state or territory of the United States. Our people receive significantly less in benefits than any other U.S. citizen residing in the states,” the letter points out. “As the island continues to recover from the hurricanes, it is incumbent on Congress assist the over 1 million residents on the island who participate in NAP and who continue to be food insecure in the wake of the hurricanes. In the longer term Congress should transition Puerto Rico into SNAP to provide equal levels of assistance for island residents compared to their peers in the states.”
The letter also brings up again some needed changes mentioned in numerous plans for Puerto Rico’s economic recovery and growth, both before and after Hurricane Maria.
Medicaid equity continues to be a serious problem, since Puerto Rico receives much less federal health care support than any State. With continuing health care issues on the Island and continuing financial strictures, Puerto Rico needs more support for health care costs.
Residents of Puerto Rico could also benefit from tax credits like the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, both of which could assist low-income families in Puerto Rico just as they do in the States. The EITC does not apply in Puerto Rico, and the Child Tax Credit applies only to families with three or more children.
The letter also requests additional disaster recovery funds. Members of Congress had sent a letter to President Trump a few days earlier making the same request.