Territorial delegates respond to coronavirus
In the midst of a global pandemic, it should not be forgotten that the US has several territories which are also affected.
Some have argued that a crisis like this can make a good argument for statehood by highlighting the disadvantages of territorial status. Each territory sends a nonvoting delegate to Congress, all of whom are currently working to secure federal aid for their constituents. Territorial delegates are able to function in most aspects of Congress, such as sponsoring legislation, serving on congressional committees, and voting in committee. Crucially, however, they are denied a vote in a bill’s final vote on the floor, limiting their influence.
Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) has been particularly active during this crisis, working with others in Congress to pass federal relief legislation that includes Puerto Rico. Along with every other territorial delegate, she supported the CARES Act, a COVID-19 (coronavirus) relief package, which ensures citizens in Puerto Rico are treated equally to mainland Americans under the federal grants and benefits incorporated in the bill.
Even after the bill passed, she and representatives from other territories have continued to be involved in the implementation of it and the next round of federal aid.
On April 2, González-Colón sent a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (R), requesting that Puerto Rico receive equal treatment as the states in any program or initiative destined to help farmers and producers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing support from the USDA during past natural disasters that disproportionately impacted Puerto Rico, such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria, González-Colón calls the department a “steadfast ally.”
“Many are experiencing substantial financial losses due to these extraordinary circumstances,” González-Colón writes. “My constituents need to be able to continue counting on your agency, as they have in the past.”
González-Colón also sent letters to the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to advocate for Puerto Rico’s interests during what she calls “a new emergency.”
American Samoa’s delegate, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R), hasn’t been silent on the issue either. She spoke on the floor to support the CARES act and pledged support for efforts by American Samoa Government throughout the COVID-19 response.
Radewagen noted that at the time of her speaking, American Samoa was without any coronavirus testing at all. She also thanked her colleagues for including her request to consider the pacific territories under the definition of state so that all pandemic unemployment assistance programs apply to American Samoa.
Michael San Nicolas (D), Guam’s nonvoting delegatee to Congress, has issued some guidance. He has been active on Facebook in an effort to uplift the spirits of his constituents, promising that “help is on the way” in the form of the CARES Act
“We got the funds and the authorization, and we have notified Govguam of what they need to do to turn it all on and make it available. Our people await,” San Nicolas wrote on Facebook.
Stacy Plaskett (D), who represents the US Virgin Islands, made herself available to talk to small business owners affected by coronavirus policies and emphasized a family oriented, whole-of-government response.
Finally, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D), the delegate for the Northern Mariana Islands, has been active on Twitter, posting updates on what’s going on and general advice for how to proceed in the face of uncertainty. On April 5,the delegate organized a fact sheet about relief designated to small businesses and private nonprofit organizations.
Sablan was also successful in his efforts to support student veterans affected by the coronavirus, ensuring that veterans in a vocational rehabilitation and education program would be protected if their school is unable to transition to online learning during the coronavirus. Sablan introduced legislation to attach to the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, which was passed on April 2nd.
All in all, it’s important to remember the territories during this crisis, because they are just as American as those of us on the mainland.