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Joe Biden’s plan for Puerto Rico

We celebrate this year the 50th anniversary of El Nuevo Día, ratifying our commitment to our people in Puerto Rico and the United States of reporting the truth and respecting the foundational values of our news media, whose priority is the defense of the common good.

Continuing that mission, we seek for solutions to the ravages the island has suffered in the last four years. Some came from nature, in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic; other from the ineptitude and lack of sensibility of the government and politicians whose belated and insufficient responses have left a trail of lost lives and pain.

There is local responsibility for the delays in the physical and fiscal reconstruction efforts in the island. But it is a fact that, in the last four years, the administration of President Donald Trump has shown an overwhelming amount of inattention, disdain and prejudice against our people.

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President Trump charged at the dignity of Puerto Ricans, to the extreme of throwing paper towel rolls when he visited the island while our people still suffered the worst horrors of the hurricane´s aftermath. He has suggested exchanging our island for Greenland, as if both were merchandise and we had little value. These acts show his disassociation from the great Puerto Rican contributions to democracy and world peace, as well as to the society and economy of the United States.

In light of the harsh reality Puerto Rico is living, and always looking for the best, we have deeply examined both presidential candidates' approaches in favor of the island.

Vicepresident Joe Biden´s Plan for Puerto Rico includes the creation of a federal work group to deal with the island’s issues in a coordinated way, a group that would directly report to the President´s office. Its purpose would be to guarantee the island the resources and technical assistance it needs, not only to recover but to prosper. President Bill Clinton created by executive order an inter-agency group to clarify the status options. President Barack Obama added economic development and the environment, among others, to the group´s tasks. President Trump never did activate the group.

Biden´s Plan considers accelerating access to federal funds already appropriated for local reconstruction. It promises to forgive disaster relief loans given to the municipalities, to promote faster recovery. It also proposes guaranteeing that recovery funds benefit local companies.

About $63 billion in federal funds have been allocated, mainly by the U.S. Congress, for the island´s recovery and reconstruction. The Trump administration, however, withheld for months the delivery of emergency funds, including Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR). The main reconstruction projects to be financed by FEMA were not signed until October 2019 under Section 428 of the Stafford Act. It was not until a few days ago that the Puerto Rican government and the Federal administration reached an agreement about the costs of the projects to reconstruct the electrical system and educational facilities. The total cost for the projects regarding the Water and Sewage Authority, among others, is still to be determined.

Biden has promised to give Puerto Rico the same elegibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that the states enjoy today. This would represent approximately an additional $700 million annually, on top of the funds received for the Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN, for its Spanish acronym).

The Democratic candidate is offering Puerto Rico equal access to Medicaid, a program that serves medically indigent persons, and the benefits of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), with a potential annual impact of $2.3 billion. Instead, the Trump administration stopped last December the possibility of Puerto Rico receiving about $12 billion in Medicaid funds for the next four years. The total funds were reduced to $5.7 billion for two years. At the same time, it has appealed court decisions that seek to give Puerto Rico access to SNAP, SSI and LIS, the Medicare subsidy program for medicines.

Biden is proposing to clarify the roles of the government of Puerto Rico and the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, to back an audit of the public debt and to protect public pensions.

The Democratic candidate has promised to triple Title 1 and Special Education funds, to a total of $1.5 billion per year. He has also promised to invest in the University of Puerto Rico, mental health and infrastructure, as well as to strengthen the electrical system.

He has also proposed to design, with the participation of several local political sectors, a fair and binding process to enable the Puerto Rican people to determine their political status. Trump has rejected the statehood option for the island, without offering deep explanations, and based on the local crisis.

The route toward presidential elections on November 3rd is clouded by a climate of racial animosity, in which the State´s intransigence, an erratic public policy regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and an economy fenced in by uncertainty converge.

Puerto Ricans, both those of us who live in the island as well as our brothers and sisters who integrate the communities of the extended homeland, are not free from the instability that has its roots in the presidential institution.

Vicepresident Biden´s plan, of course, does not solve all the problems Puerto Rico faces. For example, it does not provide specific maps for economic development needed to strengthen the island’s competitive position through manufacturing activity that has been proposed to revitalize the island. It does not specify a solution for the local government’s debt problem without damaging essential services such as pensions.

It is obvious the local government has to learn how to responsibly manage public resources and be fully accountable for its actions. It is equally important for us to be able to show our ability to work together and reach consensus to change the course of a country that, when it has the will to do so, shines, thanks to everyone´s efforts. That is the kind of unity, among the government and the people, that we need in order to put an end to social division.

Today, in this crucial moment of history, we call Puerto Rican voters in the United States to support Biden´s Plan for Puerto Rico. We ask that you, with the great power of your vote, especially in key electoral states, help open the way to the transformation effort that will honor the dignity and promote the progress of every person.

Joe Biden is not a perfect candidate, but he has the attributes to unite the willpower of many and throw away the rhetoric of violence that is creating so much division in the United States. We need a President for all, someone who believes in inclusion, who respects diversity and treats each of us as equals, regardless of color, language or accent when speaking. A President that represents the Constitution, rescuing from oblivion the fundamental principle that all American citizens are covered by a Bill of Rights that protects all our liberties, as well as our right to have our own opinion and differ without fear of being attacked or ridiculed.

Although it is far more specific and encompassing that any of Trump´s unfocused ideas and hurtful speeches, Biden´s plan emerges in the final stages of the campaign. We will keep a vigilant eye to ensure he makes good on his multiple offers. It would be unforgivable to defraud the hope of Puerto Ricans both in the island and in the United States.

Historic moments such as this require historic decisions. By endorsing Biden´s Plan for Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día confirms it is on the side of the advancement of our most sacred democratic values, including the respect for human dignity, regardless of race, creed and economic condition. A vote of Puerto Ricans living in the United States for Biden’s Plan for Puerto Rico is also a vote to stop the politics of hate, division and chaos that President Trump and a significant part of the Republican Party have supported. The world is a much more dangerous and unsustainable place, in large measure, because of this President´s domestic and international policies. The votes from our extended homeland in favor of Biden´s Plan for Puerto Rico will make our island and the world safer and more prosperous places for everyone.

 

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