(April 9th, 2020 – Washington, D.C.) Governor Vázquez Garced sent a letter to Congressional Leadership urging them to include and treat Puerto Rico equal to the States in the stimulus package currently being drafted in response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. The letter outlined several priorities needed by the Government in order to be able to continue providing a robust response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, the Governor requested additional assistance for hospitals as Puerto Rico continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Vázquez Garced urged Congress to provide the island’s healthcare system with the resources necessary so that our healthcare professionals can care for Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million U.S. citizens during the course of this emergency. As the island’s hospital infrastructure continues to be stretched beyond its capacity, the Governor’s Medical Task Force announced last week that the potential peak of COVID-19 infections is anticipated to be from April 15ththrough May 8th, 2020. Thus, it is essential that Puerto Rico hospitals and healthcare providers receive additional support and resources to attend this expected increase in patients. The Governor reiterated that if these unmet needs are not met, the island’s healthcare could collapse from the anticipated strain on the system. Furthermore, the Governor requested Congress to provide the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clear authorization to have discretionary authority to advance funds equivalent to the historical Medicare Advantage (MA) reimbursements for services rendered to Medicare-eligible beneficiaries. Currently, the CMS formula only applies to approximately 20 percent of hospital reimbursements under the Medicaid Program in Puerto Rico.
Additionally, the Governor requested forgivable Community Disaster Loans (CDL) to continue the day-to-day function and provision of essential government services as well as avoid furloughs. Issuing forgivable CDLs to Puerto Rico will allow for the local government to address the costs related to healthcare necessities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, the Governor also emphasized that Puerto Rico, while battling the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected over 600 individuals on the island and caused 24 deaths, continues to recover from the debt crisis, the 2017 hurricanes, and the numerous earthquakes from earlier this year. Thus, the Governor requested the inclusion of the House-passed earthquake supplemental, H.R. 5687, which would provide the island with additional CommunityDevelopment Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds and other federal resources that would provide the funding mechanisms to support the ongoing recovery efforts on the island.
Governor Vázquez Garced also requested federal funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) program so that the homeless U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico can have access to adequate shelter and avoid spreading COVID-19 throughout the community. Additionally, the Governor urged Congress to eliminate the 20 percent cap on Project-Based Vouchers (PBV) housing options for eligible families, and eligible limitations for the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) program for financial institutions located outside of Puerto Rico that are assisting in the disaster recovery efforts. Vázquez Garced also requested additional online educational resources and federal funding to adequately implement online learning alternatives during the island-wide stay-at-home order she issued on March 15th, 2020 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Governor also urged Congress to invest in the Nation’s broadband and provide much-needed resources to expand Puerto Rico’s broadband access across the island to provide connectivity and essential services. Vázquez Garced also requested an increase in funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) to ensure food security during this global emergency and urged Congress for equal treatment for families on the island by granting the one child threshold to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Currently, Puerto Rican families only qualify for the CTC if they have three or more children. Governor Vázquez Garced also requested an evaluation of the emergency paid sick leave and the emergency family leave federal resources for Puerto Rico’s employees. Recently issued guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor make Puerto Ricans who are quarantined since March 15th, 2020 ineligible to receive the paid leave implemented by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The Governor urged Congress to take the necessary steps in the next emergency supplemental to ensure relief for Puerto Ricans who have been unable to report to work since March 15th, 2020 as a result of the Government mandated quarantine. Lastly, the Governor requested increase financial support for law enforcement and first responders who are on the front lines combatting COVID-19.
“We urge Congressional Leadership to include and treat Puerto Rico equal to the States during this global emergency as we continue to battle with the COVID-19 virus. Currently, there are over 600 confirmed cases on the island, and we expect that number to increase as the peak of COVID-19 infections nears in the middle of April and the first week of May,” said Jennifer M. Storipan. “It is crucial that the island receives the necessary resources to ensure the health and welfare of the 3.2 million U.S. citizens who call the island home. PRFAA will continue to work with the Administration, Congress, and Federal Agencies to provide necessary information during this pandemic.”