Early last month, President Joe Biden (D) released his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Already, his administration faces controversy for the budget’s higher taxation policies, with the Republican caucus quickly introducing an alternative plan. Importantly, Biden’s commitment to deficit cuts and social services has major implications for the United States territories.
Notably, the budget’s focus on affordable healthcare is essential to improve access to medical services in the territories. For instance, the recent budget expands medical tax credits to reinforce the annual $800 premium cuts in the Inflation Reduction Act. Over the next 10 years, Biden also intends to invest $150 billion in Medicaid community support, such as home services for elderly and disabled individuals. This renewed effort to revitalize federal healthcare programs is particularly significant in the territories, as 46% of Puerto Ricans rely on Medicaid. Additionally, as 44% of Puerto Rico’s population is in poverty, the budget’s investment in healthcare is a positive development for the territories.
However, Puerto Rico governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) recently criticized Biden’s emphasis on traditional Medicare plans. Explaining that 70% of Puerto Ricans use Medicare Advantage programs, Pierluisi claimed the budget will result in an “unduly negative impact in Puerto Rico compared to the average among the states.” Although certain measures in the budget are well-intentioned, such as equal spending guarantees for physical and mental health, Biden’s impetus to reduce deficit expenses reduces coverage for mild depression, diabetes, and other disproportionate health conditions in the US territories.
Beyond the controversy on healthcare spending, the budget also includes provisions to increase renewable energy investment in the US territories. For instance, the budget includes $268 million for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). BOEM assigns $64.5 million of this initial amount for its Renewable Energy Program, which collaborates with governors of the US territories to facilitate offshore wind lease sales. This is a significant step to improve economic autonomy for the territories and address climate change-related problems, such as rising sea levels in American Samoa.
In addition, Biden’s budget provides financial support for affordable food access in the US territories through the 2023 Farm Bill. Importantly, the budget diverts funds for the US Department of Agriculture to promote local food production, federal nutrition programs, and cross-enrollment opportunities to expand eligibility for food assistance in the territories. These steps are crucial as over 33% of Puerto Ricans report food insecurity, with unhealthy or unaffordable food options a widespread issue in the territories.
Furthermore, the budget reinforces existing expenditures for suicide prevention in the territories. Through increased funding for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Biden intends to provide support for 100% of at-risk contacts, particularly in neglected areas such as the US territories. Ultimately, while debates persist over Biden’s budget, it represents profound progress in terms of economic relations between the federal government and the US territories.