Washington D.C. – Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi combined yesterday’s meetings at the White House, Congress, and a presentation at his law school alma mater with a meeting with statehood delegates who are facing what, so far, is their worst crisis.
After arriving late Tuesday in Washington D.C., Pierluisi met at the White House with Gene Sperling, the economist overseeing the coronavirus rescue plan and who expressed particular interest in learning about the plans to reach those who qualify for the federal child tax credit, which can total $3,600.
Sperling requested in light of the challenge the U.S. faced in reaching those who need the CTC. “He wants to be sure that in Puerto Rico” - where it will be fully available in 2022 by filling out the federal tax form - “that will not happen,” said Pierluisi, who plans to work with nonprofits on an educational campaign on how to access the program.
But, he also discussed with Sperling and, in another separate meeting led by White House Working Group on Puerto Rico co-chair Julie Chávez Rodríguez, his administration’s response to the coronavirus emergency and the status of the energy transformation process, over which he argued this week with Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.
Pierluisi said he highlighted the approval of an increase in the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit during the meetings.
With Gina McCarthy, Biden’s advisor on Climate Change, Pierluisi reviewed, above all, the details of the process seeking to rebuild the power grid. Pierluisi said the White House agrees that the transition process to a fully renewable sources system should include natural gas plants.
His meetings included one with Senate Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and another with House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California), who supported raising the federal Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to 76 percent by permanent law.
He also spoke with Schumer about permanent CTC and EITC credits.
McCarthy, an ally of former President Donald Trump, asked him about the reconstruction process and Pierluisi made it clear that Joe Biden’s administration is facilitating the process by eliminating restrictions imposed by the last Republican administration. Jenniffer González also attended the meeting with McCarthy, with whom she has a good relationship.
Schumer said that four years after Hurricane María hit the island, he is proud to continue working with elected Puerto Rico leaders, like Governor Pierluisi, to ensure that the island has the resources it needs to build a more resilient infrastructure, including an improved, cleaner, and more reliable power grid, and more affordable and sustainable housing.
In his statement, Schumer said that under the Trump Administration he fought against the slow release of recovery funds, and that under President Biden and a Democratic Congress he will continue to work to release additional federal funds and provide Puerto Rico with equitable and fair access to federal programs.
He added that as they continue to work with the reconciliation bill, “I am committed to ensuring that the island emerges from its most recent crises stronger and better prepared to build a more prosperous future”.
Although the U.S. Department of Health has interpreted a 2019 law as guaranteeing a permanent allocation of about $3 billion annually to Puerto Rico in Medicaid funds, the FMAP, set at 55 percent by permanent law, still needs to be raised to ensure stability to that program on the island, which largely funds the Puerto Rican government’s Vital health plan and benefits about 1.5 million people.
Pierluisi does not want legislation now seeking to allocate only for a few years the same funds guaranteed by the White House, to prevent a future administration from interpreting that if that law expires Puerto Rico falls to the minimum - of $392.5 million - which was thought to be imposed by permanent law.
At noon, Governor Pierluisi took about 45 minutes for a Hispanic Heritage Month conversation with George Washington University Law School Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew about his life, particularly as a public servant.
During the conversation at the George Washington University, Pierluisi highlighted the challenge he faced in balancing protecting the health of Puerto Rico residents during the coronavirus pandemic and preventing further economic impacts. “It is not easy to protect people’s health while ensuring an adequate quality of life,” he said.
But, he was proud that Puerto Rico is currently the federal jurisdiction with the second-highest vaccination rate, an issue he also stressed in his meetings at the White House and with congressional leaders.
He noted that unlike in the United States, in Puerto Rico measures against COVID-19 are not “a political issue.”
Popular Democratic Party (PPD) leaders also had meetings this week in Washington, among them Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago, House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, Senator Juan Zaragoza, and Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández.
Among the meetings held yesterday, they highlighted a conversation with the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (Massachusetts), with whom, according to Hernández Montañez, they sought to examine the option of improving the employment credits that this Representative proposes for U.S. subsidiaries in the territories as part of the Budget Reconciliation bill.
Hernández, mayor of Villalba, said that together with Aguadilla Mayor Julio Roldán Concepción and the Association’s executive director, Nelson Torres Yordán, they also met with Democratic Representatives Nydia Velázquez, Adriano Espaillat, Jesus ‘Chuy’ García, Darren Soto and Brendan Boyle, and Republican Mario Díaz Balart.
“We discussed issues related to direct allocations to the municipalities and the projection of Puerto Rico as a development hub in the healthcare and manufacturing in general. We also discussed an issue that is crucial for the development of the municipalities, which is municipal decentralization. If services are geographically balanced distributed, citizens will have better services,” said the mayor of Villalba.
Meanwhile, Commissioner González received yesterday afternoon a group of New Progressive Party (PNP) women legislators and activists who traveled to promote statehood for the island. On Tuesday, before meeting with González, they were outside the White House, where former governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares called statehood supporters to meet through a “challenge” in social media for activists to promote statehood outside the White House, with a protest sign in hand, for 51 minutes.
The governor said he would meet with the PNP women in the evening. But, before that, he would meet in the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) with the six elected officials to lobby for statehood, who are facing the most recent internal battle, following allegations and complaints between Elizabeth Torres and former PNP Senator Melinda Romero Donelly.
Romero Donelly has accused Torres of not doing her job. Torres said PNP Secretary-General and Senator Carmelo Ríos is corrupt and added that her priority is to fight against gender perspective. She then said her agenda includes statehood and getting a full pardon for her colleague Edwin.