Federal Support for Puerto Rico

Congress passed three bills providing support for the American people and U.S. businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent, the CARES Act, provides 2 trillion dollars in funds for small business interruption loans, relief for individuals and families, help for large corporations, and support for the health care system.

Each of the 50 states will get funds based on their population: states with more residents get more money. The minimum amount that will go to a state is $1.25 billion.

What about Puerto Rico? Puerto Rico will share a total of $3 billion with Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C. Slightly more than twice the payment for Vermont will be shared among all the territories, plus Washington, D.C., which was specifically designated a territory for the purposes of this law. Just as the share of each state depends on its population, the shares of each of the possessions depends on its population.

However, Puerto Rico has a bigger population than 21 states. It will receive the largest share of the $3 billion, but that will still be roughly a billion dollars less than the Island would have received if it had been a state.

Should Puerto Rico get less than the states?

Puerto Rico may actually need more than most states. After many years of underfunding the health care system, Congress has left Puerto Rico’s medical facilities in poor condition. Access to health care is a problem, and the drain of doctors from the Island over the past decade has left Puerto Rico with few specialists.

Shortages of protective gear, also a problem in many states, are so severe in Puerto Rico that the government has had to close police stations, emergency medical centers, and other emergency offices.

Puerto Rico’s population is also more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the residents of most states. The large number of young families who have moved to the states have left an aging population in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico also has higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma. This means that there will be more people who are likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, and probably also a higher death rate.

Some people in Puerto Rico hope that the warm weather on the Island will stop the virus, but there is no evidence that this is true.

Will Puerto Rico receive individual relief checks?

The plans for sending relief payments to individuals are the same in the possessions as in the states. Most eligible residents will receive $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for each child in the family. All of these possessions will be reimbursed for their costs as long as they have a plan approved by the Treasury for getting the payments to their residents.

However, there are some concerns. People in the states will receive payments based on their tax returns from 2019 or 2018. Anyone who earned $75,000 or more will receive less or nothing, depending on their incomes. But most residents of Puerto Rico are not required to file income tax returns. The territory will have to come up with a plan to distribute the funds under these conditions. The plan must be approved by the Treasury.

Historically, Puerto Rico has had trouble getting plans approved and funds disbursed. People who do not have bank accounts may also face delays. The Government Accountability Office has pointed to red tape of this kind as the reason Puerto Rico has not received disaster funding. The same thing may take place with the CARES Act. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon says that she is talking with the federal government to work out the details.

One thing is certain: Puerto Rico will receive less funding and will probably have more trouble receiving the funds. Puerto Rico should be a state. As a state, the Island would be treated equally with other states.

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