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Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico. (AP)

WASHINGTON – Just days before the end of the 2016 work session, the Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), will not make any promises on the initiatives that could be approved this month to provide some sort of influx to the Island’s economy.

Yet he does not hesitate to point out that the intention of the newly elected New Progressive Party (NPP) government to ask Congress to offer statehood to Puerto Rico in 2017 clashes with the fiscal crisis and the public debt.

As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Hatch’s team is coordinating the possibilities to find a space among pending legislative measures to push initiatives on Puerto Rico before the session ends.

One of the possible initiatives would be full access to the Child Tax Credit (CTC). At this time, the CTC only applies in Puerto Rico for people who have three or more children, and they can receive up to $1,000 as a reimbursement for each dependent. Other initiatives are related to the possibility of including limited access for low-income people to the subsidy for prescription medication through Medicare Part D, as well as measures in favor of small businesses.

“The committee we have is trying to put things in order. We’ll see how far we can go. Solving the complications that could arise in such a short period will be difficult. I will do what’s possible,” said Senator Hatch yesterday to El Nuevo Día, as he exited a Finance Committee session.

Hatch avoided talking about concrete measures, be it for some legislation at the end of the year, or about the recommendations to be made by the Congressional Task Force in December.

As he has said before, Hatch stated that he expects to see cuts in the “total cost of government” in Puerto Rico, since he considers that the level of expenditure is “outrageous”. “It gives me hope to hear that some (elected officials) say that they want to put things under control. That could solve at least some of the problems,” said Senator Hatch, referring to the NPP’s incoming government.

Nevertheless, when he was told that the elected government also wants to bring up a statehood offer as the main issue in the federal legislative agenda, Hatch—who is President pro tempore of the Senate—remarked that “he doubted that statehood would be acceptable under Puerto Rico’s current situation.”

PROMESA—which imposed an Oversight Board to control the PuertoRican government’s budget and fiscal matters—created the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, an eight-member bipartisan and bicameral committee.

This committee is to publish a report in December, with recommendations on possible federal, legislative, and executive initiatives to propel Puerto Rico’s economy.

The message the Republican leadership has given the Island’s authorities and private business sectors—according to Republican sources—is that, ideally, no initiatives should represent an opportunity for the government of Puerto Rico to increase its level of expenditure.

This is the reason for the emphasis on measures like the CTC or subsidies to small businesses, which is considered to directly benefit citizens without the intervention of Puerto Rico’s government.

Nevertheless, sources say that the Task Force has left behind other initiatives that would also allow directly granting money to citizens, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and reducing the Social Security payroll deductions for employees and employers, from 6.2% to 3.1%.

The reduction in the payments to the Social Security would mean an economic influx of $1.3 billion per year. With this proposal, employees would see an increase in their paychecks.

Report

Meanwhile, the publication date for the Task Force report may depend on how long the Congress session lasts. The original plan was to go on recess on Friday, December 16th.

But, since Congress has to approve a new resolution—which would extend the current level of federal government expenses until March or April—by no later than December 9, it’s possible that legislative duties will end by next week.

The next session of Congress, number 115, will begin on January 3rd.


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