White House touting Puerto Rico efforts after one year in office
On January 20, the Biden-Harris administration released a statement proclaiming their efforts to alleviate Puerto Rican issues. The Biden administration characterized itself in this brief as one that “has been fully committed to supporting Puerto Rico’s recovery and renewal.” The administration also claims to have made historic gains in regards to dispersing emergency funds and removing economic restrictions that were unique to Puerto Rico, such as canceling disaster relief loans—$3 billion in funds were approved by FEMA for over 3,000 projects in the wake of Hurricane Maria. In addition, the Economic Development Administration unveiled plans for a $16 million disaster training center program and the Environmental Protection Agency launched an initiative to support repair efforts.
Skeptics point out that this could be simply a move to garner support from the Latino community residing in the mainland. That said, the current administration’s statement is in stark contrast with the previous administration which obstructed an investigation looking into why Trump officials withheld about $20 billion in Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria relief. The Trump administration has been widely criticized for its approach to the disaster and has called Congressional plans to allocate more money to disaster relief “foolish.”
The Biden-Harris administration also claims to have provided “historic relief through the American Rescue plan” by supporting working families with a $1,400 per-person direct payment, extending unemployment benefits, and enhancing supplemental nutrition assistance for youth. The plan provided financial service to the Puerto Rican government and to keep schools open.
Other financial relief took place in the form of $50 million in rent relief and an approval to distribute mortgage assistance for distressed homeowners. More Puerto Rican families can enjoy the benefits of the extended Child Tax Credit and the plan to extend Puerto Rico’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit, quadrupling the EITC for Puerto Rican laborers.
The American Rescue Plan is projected to provide $1 billion in tax relief and has provided nearly $1 billion in emergency food assistance for Puerto Rico. Also, the White House is in the process of establishing a Working Group on Puerto Rico assisting with the further allocation of the resources and technical assistance.
In September, the Department of Health and Human Services decided that Puerto Rico will permanently receive nearly $3 billion per year in additional federal Medicaid funding. The plan also intends to allocate more money to invest in infrastructure which will result in the creation of new jobs and bolster the economy. Other issues that the White House statement mentioned were green energy investment, promoting transparency and data accessibility, improving vaccinations, and supporting small businesses—all steps towards parity.