Washington - The two Puerto Rican Representatives connected with Joe Biden’s campaign think the Democratic presidential candidate has -more than any other White House candidate- a compass for addressing Puerto Rico´s most pressing issues.
“Biden has presented a comprehensive plan. I think his advisors have gone deeper into the reality of Puerto Rico and have a greater understanding,” said Puerto Rican Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, representing New York´s 7th Congressional district and who chairs the U.S. House Small Business Committee.
Darren Soto, the first congressman of Puerto Rican origin elected to represent a Florida district, said that Biden has given Congress "broad guidelines on his vision for Puerto Rico.
Velázquez and Soto are the two Puerto Ricans Congress members who are part of Biden’s Hispanic Leadership Committee. According to polls, Biden is the favorite to be elected president of the United States on Nov. 3.
Biden not only leads in polls on national voting intent (8.9 percent, according to Real Clear Politics' average) but is also in the lead in key states where President Donald Trump won in 2016, such as Pennsylvania (5.7 percent), Michigan (6.7 percent) and Wisconsin (6.3 percent).
He is also leading in battleground states where Trump is considered to be a winner such as Florida -where Biden leads the polls with 1.7 percent- and Ohio, where polls show the candidates are in a virtual tie.
On September 15, Biden announced a plan for Puerto Rico and delivered a message in Kissimmee -Soto´s district- The former Vice-President promised to revive a task force on Puerto Rico, which would report to him and would be tasked with directing a binding process to determine the island´s status as well as speeding up the island´s recovery after the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María.
“Biden’s plan for Puerto Rico represents a real opportunity for the island to recover after having to go through these long four years of mistreatment by the Trump administration. It is a plan focused on putting the island’s federal resources once and for all to work for the people of Puerto Rico,” said Velázquez.
Puerto Rico’s access to federal nutrition assistance and Medicaid, including the island in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - which would represent an impact of nearly $4 billion for Puerto Rico - are at the top of the agenda.
Puerto Rico’s potential access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and SSI is before federal courts. If those efforts do not succeed, in the case of Medicaid, it will have to be resolved in Congress, where the proposal may have to overcome Republican opposition.
“Accelerating aid aimed at mitigating the damage caused by the hurricane ( stands out in the plan). We know that less than half of the aid allocated (36 percent) arrived on the island more than three years later,” Soto said.
Velázquez highlighted Biden’s commitment to forgive nearly $300 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lent to municipalities through the Community Disaster Loan (CDL) program. “It’s one of the most important measures ... (to) reduce the tax burden on municipalities,” she indicated.
She also focused on Biden´s proposal to include Puerto Rican businesses in the island´s rebuilding process after Hurricane María left nearly 2,975 deaths and about $100 billion in damage.
Regarding Puerto Rico’s status, Biden promised to “work with representatives who support each of the status options in Puerto Rico to engage in a fair and binding process to determine their own status.”
In his speech in Kissimmee, Biden said he believed that statehood “would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with equal representation at a federal level…the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect and act on that decision.”
Soto expects this means that if statehood wins in the November local referendum, no matter what percentage, Democrats in Congress will decide to push forward measures in the Senate and the House seeking that Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. become new U.S. states.
“I hope that if that happens, Biden will sign that legislation. If the vote is ‘no,’ we have to consider other ideas such as the bill by Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (in favor of a Status Convention) because Puerto Rico would have said no to statehood,” Soto told El Nuevo Día.
Former Vice President Biden has not taken a position on the “statehood: yes-or-no” referendum, which has been rejected by the Trump administration’s Justice Department. The President has also stated his rejection of statehood.
As for PROMESA, Rep. Velázquez noted that Biden proposes "an audit of the debt, ensuring the payment of pensions on the island and reversing current austerity measures imposed by the Oversight Board.
Soto said that although Biden has not stated that he will seek to legislate changes to PROMESA, his ideas seem to agree with the bill by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva to amend the statute to protect the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) appropriations, essential services, and to cancel the unsecured debt.
“He won’t be specific right now, but his guidelines” are in line with bills that if passed in next Congress should gain his support, according to Rep. Soto, who like Velázquez, is co-author of Grijalva’s bill.
For Velázquez, Biden’s plan is, above all, the opportunity for voters in the United States, including the Puerto Rican diaspora, to get out "of the nightmare of the Trump administration.