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CHC Urges Congress to Address Critical Issues Facing Puerto Rico

Dec 18, 2017
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Congressman José E. Serrano (NY-15), Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), and Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), co-chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Task Force on Puerto Rico, and Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09), sent the following letter urging Congress act on critical issues facing Puerto Rico.
 
As Members wrote in the letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, they “strongly urge Congress to pass an additional supplemental aid package for Puerto Rico, address the looming Medicaid cliff, prioritize the hiring of local workers in restoration efforts, allow federal funding to be used for mitigation and resiliency purposes, and prevent harm to Puerto Rico under the tax bill.”
 
Full Text of Letter:
 
December 18, 2017
 
The Honorable Paul Ryan
Office of the Speaker
H-232 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
 
Dear Speaker Ryan,
 
We write to strongly urge Congress to pass an additional supplemental aid package for Puerto Rico, address the looming Medicaid cliff, prioritize the hiring of local workers in restoration efforts, allow federal funding to be used for mitigation and resiliency purposes, and prevent harm to Puerto Rico under the tax bill. Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastating impact caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as dealing with their $72 billion debt. This assistance would help provide Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million U.S. citizens with the opportunity to restore prosperity to the island.
 
It has been three months since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and Puerto Rico is still vulnerable to life-threatening challenges, such as a lack of adequate communication, power, potable water, food, shelter, and housing. As you move forward with an additional supplemental aid package, we stress the need to include significant funding to assist Puerto Rico and its residents as they work to restore basic functions and advance the island’s recovery. This assistance is essential, particularly given the challenges Puerto Rico currently faces. Our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico deserve no less than equal consideration and treatment in their requests for assistance. 
 
A major area of concern is Puerto Rico’s treatment under the Medicaid program.  Puerto Rico receives inequitable treatment under the program when compared to states of comparable size and eligibility levels.  This problematic treatment is going to be further exacerbated by a disastrous funding decrease in early 2018- a reduction that would harm the health of many Puerto Ricans, and the health care system on the island.  There is an urgent need to address this issue now, and ensure that millions of Puerto Ricans do not face a health care emergency early next year as funds are reduced. In addition, it is imperative to waive Medicaid cost shares for the duration of the recovery from Hurricane Maria.  This is something that has been done in previous disaster responses, and it should be done here.
 
The majority of Puerto Rico is also still without power, with 700 temporary generators providing emergency power until power is fully restored. Officials estimate that emergency power will not give way to more permanent power until next summer. Until permanent power is restored, all other restoration efforts will either be hindered or remain unresolved. 
 
We, therefore, urge that Congress include a comprehensive effort to repair, restore, and modernize Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, provide continued oversight of these efforts and make a strong commitment to hire local workers.  Continued oversight over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bidding process will ensure bids are open to all appropriate contractors and prevent any appearance of impropriety. Oversight will also ensure that work commences as quickly as possible in a cost-effective manner.
 
A committed effort to local training and hiring will be integral in the rebuilding process. Directing appropriated funds to prioritize local hiring will assist in minimizing costs while fostering local economic growth. The amount of professional and exemplary local talent to restore Puerto Rico’s infrastructure already exists. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has its training center in Puerto Rico. Their training and apprenticeship programs are unmatched in their 76-year record of producing some of the highest skilled and most professional electricians in the world. IBEW has also established a collective bargaining system that guarantees fair wages and worker protections. Thus, Puerto Rico already possesses the needed workforce to restore the island’s power in a cost-effective and professional manner.    
 
Additionally, as recovery work moves forward, it is necessary to include language allowing for flexibility in federal funding used to repair and rebuild infrastructure in a way that mitigates risk of damage in future storms.  This type of resiliency is absolutely critical to ensure that Puerto Rico, or any other place affected this hurricane season, can rebuild in a way that protects against future disasters.  Absent this language, there is a risk that areas affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey, will be forced to expend significant federal resources in the future to respond to similar disasters.  Allowing for this type of flexibility will ensure a more efficient use of federal resources.
 
Lastly, we urge you to address penalties that Puerto Rico faces in the tax bill.   The current tax status is essential to Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector, which amounts to 49 percent of its gross domestic product. The GOP’s tax plan would treat the island as a foreign jurisdiction under the U.S. tax code by implementing a 12.5 percent excise tax. This would greatly increase Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate, which is currently 11 percent. The current tax code allows U.S. subsidiaries operating in Puerto Rico to enjoy tax benefits that incentivize manufacturers to produce their products on the island. Puerto Rican officials have already warned that the excise tax could annihilate the island’s manufacturing sector. Puerto Rico’s Lt. Governor, Luis Rivera Marin, has even stated the economic damage from the tax reform bill would make “Maria seem like a drizzle.”  The GOP tax plan must be amended to prevent harm to Puerto Rico and to further incentivize job creation and economic growth on the island. 
 
We thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter, and for your continued support in assisting Puerto Rico and our fellow U.S. citizens during the recovery process.
 
Sincerely,
 
Michelle Lujan Grisham                                                    
CHC Chair                                                                                                                                  
 
José Serrano                                                                                                    
CHC Co-Chair, Puerto Rico Task Force
 
Nydia M. Velázquez                                                          
CHC Co-Chair, Puerto Rico Task Force
                                
Luis V. Gutiérrez
CHC Co-Chair, Puerto Rico Task Force
           
Darren Soto
CHC Puerto Rico Task Force                                                                                                    
 
 
                          
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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), founded in December 1976, is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.
 
Media Contact:
Carlos Paz Jr.
202-525-0053