While acknowledging that there is a “limited time window,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) said he is hopeful that consensus can be reached in Congress to pass the bill with President Joe Biden’s social agenda, including provisions related to Puerto Rico.
Although Democrats control the Senate and House, they have not reached the votes to pass the bill before Christmas. The future of Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, as well as the extension of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to island residents and other provisions, depend on the fate of that measure.
“Whatever the difficulties, and we face disagreements, I believe our Democratic colleagues are determined to reach some results,” he said and added that they committed to the American people “to reduce prescription drug costs, provide free child care, as well as universal pre-K, climate change efforts, and other measures that will benefit every state in the country and Puerto Rico.”
In a telephone interview with El Nuevo Día while visiting the island, Blumenthal said that he is also “very determined to include provisions that treat Puerto Ricans as Americans.”
In addition to the procedural hurdles the bill has faced, there is also pressure to pass Biden’s social plan before midterm elections.
“I think, and I’m not speaking for anyone but myself, that we have a limited time window because there is a risk that the Democrats could lose control of one of the two chambers of Congress, Senate, or House. And, right now, we have a unique opportunity to achieve justice and equity for Puerto Rico, and we must seize this moment,” the Connecticut senator said.
However, the expectation is not that it will necessarily be approved in the next few weeks.
“Those kinds of measures can be taken in the next few months. And, obviously, we need all the Democratic votes to act against the Republican opposition, unless some of our Republican colleagues agree with us. And that’s the political reality we face,” Blumenthal argued.
On December 11, the Senate Finance Committee released an updated legislative text of the President’s social agenda, which still included extending SSI to residents of Puerto Rico and job credits for corporations in the territories.
As for Medicaid, the bill includes a $3.6 billion appropriation to Puerto Rico for FY 2022, in addition to increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to 76 percent in FY 2022 and 83 percent in FY 2023.
The bill also increases the minimum reimbursement for Medicaid-covered medical services to “70 percent of the payment that would apply to such services,” with a provision that, if the government does not increase the reimbursement level for physicians, there will be a penalty on the FMAP level for Puerto Rico.
As for SSI, Congress is not the only battleground. Currently, the Supreme Court still has to decide on the United States v. Vaello Madero case. José Luis Vaello Madero was a New York resident and SSI beneficiary who later moved to Puerto Rico and continued to receive the benefit. Now, however, the U.S. government argues that Vaello Madero must return the more than $28,000 he received while living on the island.
For Blumenthal, Vaello Madero’s situation, “is a denial of equal protection of the law for Americans, and the District Court ruled that way. The appeals court ruled that way. I think the Supreme Court should rule that way.”