Puerto Rican authorities have seen their expectations reduced right in Congress, that – unless the battle for financing a border wall with Mexico alters the plan – is counting the days until the 115th Congress ends.
At a time when the government of Donald Trump is carefully watching over the release of disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, Jennifer González, Resident Commissioner in Washington, said she still expects to include –in the omnibus budged intended to be approved next week- an adjustment in Medicare Advantage plan payments and a $600 million allocation for Puerto Rico´s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP).
González´ bill H.R. 6809 –known as PRIMA- seeks to modify the Medicare Advantage rates in Puerto Rico, with a potential influx of $1 billion annually.
And just like Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, she also seeks for Congress to grant an additional $600 million funding to the $1,8 billion in funds that Puerto Rico´s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) receives each year.
This $600 million in NAP funding would enable the continuity of the $1,7 billion allocation –granted in October 2017- in emergency funds of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNPA) that has included 153,000 families that do not receive PAN and that expire in March 2019.
González described the allocation as “imperative” in a recent letter to the leadership of the allocation committees, both in the House and the Senate,
While the first $1,5 billion in disaster relief funds from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG – DR) Program –that are part of a $20 billion package- has not been released yet, González does not foresee another significant allocation.
Efforts in favor of significant tax measures –that were not included in the tax bill that is still in the House and whose future remains uncertain- seem to have been left behind, at least, until the 116th Congress session begins.
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Republican from Texas,
According to Democratic lobbyist Javier Llano, from Oldaker & Wilison, Republican Kevin Brady (Texas), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman –who proposed the bill trying to include it in the omnibus budget debate- seems to have “short memory”.
He said that the bills has initiatives to assist other jurisdictions affected by natural disasters, but it has “nothing for Puerto Rico.”
Governor Rosselló Nevares and Resident Commissioner Jennifer González as well as Democratic representatives like Nydia Velázquez and civic organizations have worked to fully extend federal tax credits -such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC)- to Puerto Rico. But it was not included in Brady´s bill.
González has unsuccessfully tried for the Ways and Means Committee to propose to make permanent the increase in the tax reimbursement for the Puerto Rican rum, which was extended in 2017 until 2022 and represents about $80 million per year.
Also Rosselló Nevares´efforts, and those of the private sector, to reduce the tax rates that Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFC) pay in Puerto Rico or to create a new tax incentive to promote investment in tourism, seem to have been left behind.
Rosselló and González have also tried to extend the Opportunity Zone program to all Puerto Rico. The program applies to 97 percent of the island and allows investors in disadvantaged zones to have tax exemptions –during a ten-year period.
Last night, before going to Washington, Rosselló Nevares said that, in his meetings, he will insist on a permanent or temporary funding of the island´s health system through Medicaid.
$4,8 billion in Medicaid funds, after Hurricane María, were a temporary relief, but those funds will be depleted by fiscal year 2020 which starts in October 2019, what may create an unbalance in the anual $1 billion funding.
A few days ago, Rosselló Nevares requested in Congress $3,18 billion in Medicaid funds for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
Both Commissioner González and the governor said that they have also pushed for funds to restore the Caño Martín Pena.
In order to close this session, Congress leadership requires an agreement on the budget bill, ideally before December 21.
Before HUD requirement for the government of Puerto Rico to have a structure to receive the first $1,5 billion in CDBG-DR funds, Rosselló Nevares said that the Puerto Rico Department of Housing and the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office (CRRO) are actively working to hire specialized staff to help in those procedures.