Washington – The U.S. House Democratic majority introduced yesterday a new bill to boost the economy amid the coronavirus emergency, which would represent at least about $20 billion in assistance for Puerto Rico.
The measure proposes a second federal check of at least $1,200 for most of the citizens, including island residents, to extend the $600 weekly federal unemployment assistance until January 31, 2021, and new coronavirus-related sick leave and family benefits until December 2021.
The bill, which is more than 1,800 pages long and totals nearly $3 trillion, proposes the creation of a $915 billion fund to fiscally assist state, territory, and tribal governments, as well as counties and municipalities, to mitigate their emergency expenses.
$20 billion of the fund Democrats propose would go to state and territorial governments. Of that total, Puerto Rico would receive some $11 billion, according to an analysis by El Nuevo Día.
Puerto Rico's municipalities could also have access to some of the $375 billion funds provided for local governments.
The Democratic bill, like the measure the House approved last February to address to the emergency caused by recent earthquakes on the island, again promotes the full financing of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) in Puerto Rico, which would have an impact of $1.4 billion annually.
Specifically, the measure also seeks an allocation of nearly $290 million in nutrition assistance and $60 million for roads in Puerto Rico.
The bill includes the island in the program that increases nutrition assistance funds when school cafeterias in a jurisdiction are not fully operational.
Although she regretted that the measure was not the result of a consensus with her Republican colleagues, Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C., Jenniffer González, said the bill includes language to avoid that during natural disasters Puerto Rico and three other jurisdictions have to look for a product in the United States before being able to buy it from other countries.
"There are some elements in that legislation that are good for Puerto Rico," the commissioner said in San Juan.
The Democratic majority in the House plans to approve the measure on Friday, although, as of now, it serves as a mechanism to pressure Republicans in the Senate and the White House.
"Having a majority in the House, it's very important that we introduce the bill that represents what we believe are the real needs. It puts us in a better position," Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva told El Nuevo Día, noting that, unlike the CARES Act - which incorporated Democratic initiatives - this bill allows Democrats to establish their priorities from the beginning.
Senate Republican majorityleader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) indicated that it is too early to consider a new economic stimulus bill. "I don't think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately," McConnell said Monday. He has proposed granting immunity to businesses that reopen operations under the threat of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 81,000 people in the United States. However several of his Republican colleagues recognize that their states need support.
Mortgages and debt are not on hold, "we must think big," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unveiling the bill, which is titled "Heroes."
Pelosi said the measure considers that more than 33 million people have lost their jobs since the emergency began and that the unemployment rate increased to 14.7 percent in April.
Regarding the federal check, the Democratic measure - like the CARES Act - seeks to grant a second payment of at least $1,200 for the overwhelming majority of citizens, including residents of Puerto Rico. But this time, it includes an additional $1,200 - up to a maximum of $6,000 - for dependent persons, which can include full-time students under 24 and other adults.
The $1,200 would benefit individuals with salaries up to $75,000 a year. For couples, the maximum wage is $150,000. As from that income, the check reduces by $5 per $100.
In addition to the funds detailed in the measure, there is an impact of federal checks, which in the first round represented some $3 billion, and unemployment assistance, which for four months - instead of the six proposed by this legislation - the Puerto Rican government has estimated at $3.9 billion.
But even if the measure were to be signed into law - which seems unlikely - it would take time to see the impact of this whole gigantic proposal.
The Puerto Rican government estimates that the federal economic stimulus laws passed in March and April will have an impact of $12.8 billion on the island.
The Democratic legislation would authorize $100 billion in grants to hospitals and health care providers in the states, Washington D.C. and territories. Besides, it allocates $75 billion for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and other related activities.
Another $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Education to assist state and local education systems, as well as post-secondary education.
It also allocates $200 billion for payments to essential workers and $175 billion for housing assistance.