Washington - The White House and the congressional leadership tried to speed up yesterday negotiations to approve -early next week - an Economic Stimulus bill that would allow, among other things, cash payments for Puerto Rico residents.
Given the coronavirus emergency, which along with the threat to public health has paralyzed and collapsed different sectors of the economy, the goal was to reach a bipartisan agreement last night to draft a consensus bill this weekend and approve it on Monday.
"As [Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin] has indicated, it is important for us to be on the Senate floor and pass the measure by Monday," said Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
President Donald Trump said he still wants citizens to receive well over $1,000 and to disburse the money in installments, for as long as it is needed.
The senators and representatives participating in the negotiations, which include the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, have divided into groups to advance the discussions, at a time when the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise, with over 15,600 confirmed positive cases and more than 200 deaths, almost all reported last week.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow participate in the negotiations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that the Republican bill "is not worker-friendly and instead puts corporations far ahead of workers."
Senate Democratic minority leader Charles Schumer said the bill also needs to improve funding for unemployment and direct assistance to local governments.
The Senate Republican majority bill, which is part of the negotiations, seeks to allow most of the residents of the United States and its territories to receive between $600 and $1,200 if they earned less than $75,000 in 2018, the year that determines the total amount of money the federal Treasury will award.
For married couples filing jointly, the check could reach $2,400 if their income did not exceed $150,000 in 2018.
Taxpayers would receive another $500 for each child, according to the Republican proposal released Thursday by the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa.
For individuals who earned more than $75,000 in 2018 and couples who earned more than $150,000, the check will be reduced by $5 for every additional $100. However, this relief would not be available for incomes higher than $99,000 and $198,000 respectively.
For those with limited federal income tax liability, the bill proposes a $600 check, the same amount proposed for retirees and military veterans, according to Grassley.
But, according to Paul Van de Water, an expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), when Grassley talks about those with limited federal income tax liability he may be referring, among other cases, to families that made $35,000 in 2018.
Van de Water also warned that under the Senate Republicans' plan, taxpayers need to have at least $2,500 in qualifying income to access the cash payment, which has been criticized by the Democratic leadership.
In Puerto Rico, in 2018, 52.6 percent of individuals did not report wages and salaries, 25.2 percent reported between $2,501 and $34,999, and only 6.2 percent earned more than $35,000, said Professor Héctor Cordero Guzmán of the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College in New York.
"People with the lowest incomes are the most at risk during downturns; they are likelier to see their earnings fall and seldom have a substantial financial cushion to rely on. Excluding them or giving them less will mean that more households will have trouble paying rent and putting food on the table," said Van de Water, a former Social Security Administration official.
Under the Senate Republicans' plan, in Puerto Rico, the money would be processed by the Treasury Department, which would receive the amount to distribute from the federal Treasury, according to Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González.
The Senate Finance Committee leadership indicated that in Puerto Rico citizens will receive the money based on the taxes they pay to the island's government, the same process set up during the 2008 financial crisis.
Waiting for details
Commissioner González warned that once the law is approved, under the Senate Republicans' proposal that is still subject to negotiation, they will provide details and the Treasury Department would have to implement a plan to ensure a fast disbursement.
According to Commissioner González, to disburse the funds, once the measure is signed into law, the U.S. Treasury Department will have to publish a Federal Register notice. The Treasury must then file its plan.
Although the plan by House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters includes Puerto Rico - with monthly checks that maybe around $2,000 - Democratic Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), along with other Congress members, sent a letter yesterday to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal to ensure the inclusion of island residents.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, inturn, asked Speaker Pelosi to insist that territories have the same benefits as the states in this bill at a time when they are also facing an unprecedented crisis, said the chair of the Resources Committee Naturals, Democrat Raúl Grijalva (Arizona).