Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, along with Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. (horizontal-x3)
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, along with Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. (Supplied)

Washington - Republican Marco Rubio (Florida) said yesterday that he will defend a comprehensive agenda of assistance measures for Puerto Rico, as part of the third resolution of additional allocations pending in the US Senate, that he predicts will be approved in mid February.

He said that the first line there will be the initiative promoted by the Island's authorities to obtain full funding of the Medicaid program for two years, which would add about $ 6 billion and alleviate the government of Puerto Rico of the contribution of about $ 2.4 billion to Mi Salud (My Health) program.

"We have to achieve the Medicaid funds. Two years to recover and plan how to deal with that in the long term," said Rubio, after it was known that the $ 1 billion approved in the House as part of the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were excluded from the temporary budget resolution intended to be approved, along with CHIP, tomorrow at the latest.

But he also stressed the importance of using the next resolution to direct the reconstruction of Puerto Rico's power grid. "If the power grid is to be rebuilt, it must be done with modern technology. It is not going to be the last time that Puerto Rico will be affected by a hurricane. If billions of dollars will be invested, you have to do make it in a more resistant way," expressed Rubio, in an interview with El Nuevo Día, together with Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González.

The resolution passed in House, which totals $ 81 billion, has among its sections the language of the legislation of Democratic Congressman José Serrano (New York) and Commissioner González to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) finance works that rebuild, and not just repair, the power grid.

Rubio has coordinated with Commissioner Gonzalez a series of proposals that promote in each legislative chamber the bill on disaster mitigation: to fully include the residents of Puerto Rico in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for dependent children; to reduce by half the Social Security and Medicare payroll deduction, for the benefit of workers and companies; to significantly increase funding for the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG); and to allow FEMA to exempt 100 percent the matching of funds of the cost to repair infrastructure for one year.

Resident Commissioner had advanced Rubio's support to these initiatives, almost all of them also on the agenda of the government of Puerto Rico and Democrats in Congress. But it is important that they have been publicly embraced by a member of the Republican majority in the Senate.

For Rubio, although the Director of the Office of Management and Budget of the White House, Mick Mulvaney, confirmed that a fourth allocation resolution, focused on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is planned, it may be key to take as much advantage as possible of the next measure, due to the weightdelegations of Texas, California and Florida have on it.

González said that speaker Paul Ryan had warned her that the fourth allocation resolution would be focused on funds for the power grid and transportation. "That does not mean there are not things to do now," said Rubio, the first federal senator to survey the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Maria.

Rubio has been criticized -Governor Ricardo Rosselló expressed disappointment about it- for not using his vote in favor for the federal tax reform to soften its effects on Puerto Rico or the full inclusion of the Island's residents in the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

"My vote was never decisive," explained Rubio, noting that even without supporting the reform, Vice President Michael Pence's vote would have allowed approval.

Rubio said that although he did not speak publicly on the Island's issues when questioning his vote for the reform, the $ 1,000 to $ 1,400 increase in credit that can be claimed from the CTC reimbursement will benefit Florida's Puerto Ricans and those who have three or more children on the Island, who, due to a technical error, have access to that program.

Regarding Rosselló's criticism, Rubio -who was not invited to the meeting the Governor had in Kissimmee last week- assured he was not upset. "I do not think it is smart to turn the Puerto Rican issue into a partisan issue. I am going to work on the issues of Puerto Rico, no matter what he says. I have worked in favor of the issues of Puerto Rico before he (Rosselló) was elected governor and I will continue working on the issues of Puerto Rico after he is no longer governor," stated Rubio.

It seems natural to the Republican senator that Governor Rossello, as a politician identified with the Democrats, wants to obtain partisan political benefits in the USA. "There is no other senator from any party that has done more for Puerto Rico than what we have tried to do," he said, referring to a list of petitions he has submitted to the federal government since September and to sending officials from his office to the Island as soon as the hurricane hit Puerto Rico.

For Rubio, "sometimes, when people feel criticized and under pressure, they look for someone to blame, because they did not achieve this or that. Possibly, that has motivated him, but, at the end of the day, Jenniffer is the one here, the one the people of Puerto Rico sent to Washington to work on federal issues."

"There is no doubt that we will talk and work with the government of Puerto Rico, with the mayors, the local officials and the Governor. During the election season, we can talk about politics, right now we are talking about helping people, at a time when 40 percent of them do not have power. If I were the governor of a state or territory that does not have power, I would spend more time (there) than in Orlando. But, that is a decision that each one has to make on their own," pointed out Rubio.


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