Federal budget delivers huge victory for Jenniffer González-Colón
The two-year bipartisan budget agreement unveiled by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the United States Senate has delivered a huge victory for Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González-Colón. The deal, negotiated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, would increase federal spending by around $400 billion and put an end to the recent partisan skirmishes over the nation’s budget.
Included in this deal is a nearly $90 billion relief package to disaster-affected regions of the country, including California, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. About $7 billion would go to the territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, who are still reeling from the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colón (R) of Puerto Rico praised the Senate deal in a tweet. She wrote that she is “pleased to announce that the Island’a (sic) needs will be addressed in this bill.”
The Senate disaster relief package to Puerto Rico shores up the territory’s public healthcare system by providing $4.9 billion to its Medicaid fund. This will fully cover the islands’ public healthcare-related costs for two years, giving the territory’s government a much needed reprieve in the wake of the broiling debt crisis. According to Gonzalez-Colón, the deal gives more time to both governments to reach a final solution.
In addition to the Medicaid fund injection, the Senate deal includes appropriations of $2 billion to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid. Around 40% of the islands remain without power as of the time of writing.
Despite the broad support for disaster relief in Congress, the Senate deal faced uncertainty in the House of Representatives. Members of both parties objected to this deal for a variety of reasons. Most notably, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California spoke for more than eight hours on the House floor opposing the budget deal which, according to her, is silent on the fate of DACA recipients. House conservatives have also expressed distaste for the increased deficit spending that comes with the Senate deal. Therefore, relief for Puerto Rico could have been held up by partisan politics in Washington.
With the Trump administration’s recently unveiled infrastructure, Resident Commissioner Gonzalez-Colon sees many opportunities for the islands to take advantage of. Within the infrastructure plan, she explains, is the chance to cut bureaucratic red tape in the form of excluding Puerto Rico from limitations on incoming air cargo from the US as well as the obtaining of federal environmental permits.
The administration’s infrastructure plan remains the subject of heated debate as it makes its way through the legislative process in Congress.