Puerto Rican economic and social sectors and the island's allies in Congress, are called to close ranks with the efforts of Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González to achieve essential federal allocations just before Congress concludes this year’s sessions.
On one hand, the requested additional funds would strengthen the medical attention systems of the island: Medicaid program that covers the medical-indigent population through the government´s “Vital” program, and Medicare that covers senior citizens.
In addition, the local government's request includes extending the food assistance granted to individuals and families affected by Hurricane María. It also covers allocations for flood mitigation projects or other natural events.
When Congress concludes sessions on December 7, it should have considered an "Omnibus Act" that brings together a series of measures of several agencies for the 2019 fiscal budget.
Meanwhile, the possibility that President Donald Trump will present to Congress a request for emergency funds - due to the damages caused by hurricanes Michael and Florence and the forest fires in the west - is on the table. The combination of emergency allocations for disaster mitigation in the budget improves the probabilities of allocations for the island.
Hence, government leaders have intensified lobbying in Washington. The goal is to achieve congressional support for bills that are fundamental for the people’s health and survival, and for the economy and infrastructure of Puerto Rico. The support of private groups reinforces the official efforts before congress members.
Among the requested allocations are an additional $ 3,18 billion in Medicaid funds for federal fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This would secure funding for the government's health plan, which covers 1.1 million people. It is expected that this $ 4,8 billion allocation may no longer be available in two years.
A parallel initiative is the Puerto Rico Integrity Medicare Advantage Act, introduced by González. The bill seeks to reinforce the Medicare Advantage coordinated care platform, through which 90 percent of Medicare patients on the island get medical attention.
The bill also seeks to improve payment rates to doctors, hospitals and local health service providers, which are 25 percent lower than in the Virgin Islands and 43 percent lower than the average in the United States. The additional $ 3 billion requested would reduce that disparity during three years. This bill would also encourage medical talent retention.
On the other hand, the Governor requested an additional $ 600 million for the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) under federal emergency programs. The increase in funds for food assistance after Hurricane María extended the NAP benefits to nearly 200,000 affected people. With Congress’ endorsement, that assistance would be prolonged.
Meanwhile, the funds for river channelization and the restoration of Caño Martín Peña would prevent floods during storms or hurricane events.
The goals of these allocations are linked to the island´s recovery agenda, and direct attention to the most vulnerable populations. Achieving the empathy of senators and House representatives is essential. Important leaders, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, have endorsed several bills. Most of the federal legislators must be encouraged to do the same.
The Puerto Rican agenda in Washington must also be equipped with guarantees of transparency, oversight and rigorous use of funds. These are indicators of the fiscal discipline that must sustain the enforcement of the recovery fiscal agenda.
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