(March 24, 2021 – Washington, DC) – Today, Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources and discussed President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better Plan’, an infrastructure plan to transform the economy and provide relief to working families. Specifically, the plan will provide assistance to Puerto Rico by supporting a full recovery, a reconstruction of the infrastructure, providing economic development initiatives, ensuring relief from unsustainable debt, expanding access to education and workforce development, and supporting families.
In his testimony, the Governor began by stressing that the island has endured multiple natural disasters, a governance disruption, and struggles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the island’s progress has been made amid these unprecedented events. During his statement, he also expressed his Administration’s supports for the Oversight Board’s Plan of Adjustment presented before the Title III Court, except for the FOMB proposal to cuts Puerto Rico’s public pensions. The statement also outlines the measures the Government of Puerto Rico has taken to reduce expenses and increase transparency on the use of public funds.
Additionally, with regard to the reconstruction process, Governor Pierluisi acknowledged the support of President Biden by expediting and providing access to federal recovery funds that were withheld and assistance with previously imposed regulations that hindered the island’s long-term recovery. In his statement, the Governor recognized that the island’s infrastructure had to be rebuilt in a resilient way to withstand any future natural disaster and that a transformation of the electric grid was necessary.
During the hearing, Governor Pierluisi thanked members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Congressional leadership, and the Biden-Harris Administration for the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) and the provisions included in the bill that directly benefit the island, such as the Child Tax Credit (“CTC”), Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”), and additional language that will aid Puerto Rico in its recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his statement, the Governor noted that while ARPA addresses some of the most immediate aspects of the crisis we are currently facing, the Build Back Better Plan is an infrastructure bill designed to address a wide range of long-term priorities.
The Governor also addressed the disparities between the states and Puerto Rico’s healthcare and Nutritional Assistant Programs (NAP per its Spanish acronym), as well as the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. In his testimony, the Governor denounced the unequal treatment that American citizens that reside on the island are subjected to and called for equal treatment. He joined the Congressional members that have called out the U.S. Department of Justice for defending the disparate treatment of Puerto Rico in federal programs.
In his written statement, the Governor also addressed the island’s public education system, specifically Puerto Rico’s higher percentage of students receiving special education services and the need for increased mental health support for our children. Among the island’s immediate necessities, the Governor mentioned the Title I program, which provides funding for schools that serve children from low-income families and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) as well as investment in initiatives that address student’s mental health.
In the statement submitted to the committee Governor Pierluisi also highlighted the $100 billion in funding as part of the President’s plan for school construction that includes funds for Puerto Rico, stating that these funds would provide much-needed resources to rebuilt schools and meet codes for earthquake safety. The Governor also emphasized his support to invest in the University of Puerto Rico as an engine of economic growth by outlining $70 billion in funding as part of the Minority-Serving Institutions (“MSIs”) in the Plan.
In his statement, he argued that when PROMESA was enacted, no one envisioned two devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. He further argued that sustainability is key and that Puerto Rico needs to have its debt level controlled in order to have a workable government and promote economic development on the island. Governor Pierluisi also stated that in light of these current conditions, a shift in the approach of the FOMB is imperative and discussed the President’s pledge to support a review of FOMB policies and a partnership with the Government of Puerto Rico to promote economic grown, renew local infrastructure, and protect essential services.
As part of his testimony, the Governor also addressed Puerto Rico’s political status and the November 3rd, 2021, plebiscite vote. A clear majority of Puerto Rico’s voters chose equality and statehood for the island. The testimony emphasizes the fifty-two and a half (52.5%) percent out of the island’s 1.2 million voters that chose statehood as the best option to solve Puerto Rico’s status. In his written testimony, the Governor reaffirmed his support for the bipartisan bill (H.R. 1522) filed by the island’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón and Congressman Darren Soto that sets forth the process for Puerto Rico to become a state of the Union.
“I thank Chairman Grijalva and Ranking member Westerman, as well as other members of the House Natural Resources Committee, for the opportunity to testify today and discuss these priorities that directly affect our island. I will always stand for equal treatment in the island’s healthcare and nutritional programs, as well as the SSI benefits; I want to ensure quality access under these federal programs for Puerto Rico,” stated Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi.
“While Puerto Rico has made considerable progress with our recovery, there’s still much work to be done. As Governor of Puerto Rico, I will continue to fight for equality. The American citizens of Puerto Rico already chose their preferred process for self-determination. Ignoring the will of voters is undemocratic and un-American. The majority rules in our democratic system and the majority in Puerto Rico wants statehood; it is up to Congress now to act,” said Governor Pierluisi.
“While the American Rescue Plan Act addresses the immediate crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Build Back Better Plan will be transforming for our country. This is a bill that will define the meaning of the Biden presidency. We need to get this across the finish line; this bill will not look at red or blue, it will benefit all Americans. President Biden and Vice President Harris have made clear that the American citizens in Puerto Rico deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I will hold them to that promise. We need to come together and support this bill that will benefit Americans and bolster our Nation’s economy,” concluded the Governor.
“Today, Governor Pierluisi testified before the House Natural Resources Committee and discussed the island’s immediate priorities. Our responsibility is to ensure that the American citizens of Puerto Rico have access to the same opportunities and are treated equally to those that reside on the U.S. mainland. We will continue to fight tirelessly to be the voice of the 3.2 million American citizens that call the island home,” said PRFAA’s Executive Director, Carmen M. Feliciano.