(GFR Media) (semisquare-x3)
(GFR Media)

Washington - This week, along with other territorial delegates, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González will coordinate a meeting to establish a joint agenda for this Congress session, which will include efforts to try to repeal the new ban on cockfighting. 

The search for a permanent solution for the funding of the Puerto Rican health system, especially through Medicaid, and the extension of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) extension – already granted to Guam – will also be among the issues to be promoted during the coming weeks and months.

The 115th Congress ended with the so-called “Farm Bill”, with an amendment -by now former Republican Rep. Peter Roskam (Illinois)- that extended the prohibition of activities related to the cockfighting industry -already enforced in the states- to the territories.

The ban would come into force in December 2019. "We want to return to the rule-of-law (prior to December 20, 2018)," said González in an interview.

Although the House passed Roskam's amendment with broad support (359-51), González believes that if a hearing is held – which was denied under the Republican majority – they will be able to explain the rules that the territories implement to control that industry, which on the island represents $ 18 million and about 12,000 direct jobs, according to the government.

"That was an amendment that did not pass through the Committee on Agriculture," González said.

This agenda will also coincide with the request for new Medicaid funds.

González thinks there may be an opportunity under the House Democratic majority to seek a permanent solution to the fiscal cliff of about $1.2 billion that the Puerto Rican government may face every year, as of July 2020, regarding Medicaid allocations.

At the end of last Congress, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares requested $ 3,18 billion to cover federal fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

But, in December, the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration (ASES, Spanish acronym) told El Nuevo Día that it has enough funding for the entire Puerto Rican fiscal year 2019-2020, which covers the first nine months of federal fiscal year that ends in September.

Regarding SSI, González said she will re-introduce legislation on that program for Puerto Rico.

Residents on the island have access to the Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled (AABD), which represents an average of about $ 70 per month per participant, compared to the $ 470 to $ 589 per month that a SSI beneficiary could receive if the program were implemented in Puerto Rico.

Last Friday, Democrat Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced a legislation on a disaster aid package to address the 2018 natural disasters, which includes an additional special allocation of $ 600 million in nutrition assistance funds and to exempt Puerto Rico from FEMA matching requirements regarding debris removal and emergency measures related to impact of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico.

The Democrats bill can go to a vote in the next few days, but it does not have a clear path in the Senate, which remains in Republican hands, with a 53 to 47 majority.

Commissioner González would like that any allocation intended to mitigate natural disasters would include her legislation, which seeks to address disparities in Medicare Advantage (MA) payments in Puerto Rico, that she estimates would represent an influx of about $ 1 billion per year.

Along with the Medicaid issue, the new House Democratic majority should see the possibilities to fully extend the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) to Puerto Rico, which can now be only claimed by families with three or more children and that represents an annual $ 300 million injection to the island's economy.

During the 115th Congress, Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) also introduced legislation, along with now former Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah), in favor of granting full access to CTC reimbursement to residents on the island, which reaches up to $ 1,400 per dependent.

Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C. said that she also wants to push to extend Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to the island, another idea that Democratic sectors suggested in the past, but has limited support among Republicans.

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