The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources heard from Governor Pierluisi this week. Their hearing on “The State of the Territories” examined the positions of the United States territories, including Puerto Rico.
Statehood supporters were present outside the capitol building, calling on the senators to support S 780, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill.
Governor Pierluisi spoke optimistically about economic growth in Puerto Rico. He said that Puerto Rico had an approved plan of adjustment and revised fiscal plan, and asked that the role of the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board be discussed further.
“2022 will be a key year in our reconstruction,” he said, pointing to the fact that disaster recovery funding has finally reached Puerto Rico.
“As of today, FEMA Public Assistance has obligated $26.6 billion of the federal share, of which
$4.8 billion has been disbursed. 2021 experienced a significant increase of key obligations for
infrastructure projects of Puerto Rico’s central government, as well as dozens of municipalities
and private non-profit organizations (PNP’s). A major focus of my administration has been to accelerate the progress of over 7,300 projects with permanent work funding with a total obligation of $20.1 billion of federal share. As such, over 330 projects have already been completed, and over 500 are currently under construction. We expect that in 2022 at least 2,000 projects with a construction value of over $4 billion will be either in construction bids or in construction activity, including the first projects to repair the electrical transmission and distribution system, as well as water aqueducts and plants, roads, schools, industrial buildings, recreational parks, sport installations, and hospitals.”
He spoke about a significant increase in labor force participation and 3% growth in the economy in 2021.
The governor said firmly that Puerto Rico needs to be treated equally in federal social programs, pointing out that Medicaid is not the same in the territories as in the states.
“Medicaid provides fundamental healthcare to approximately 75 million Americans in the
mainland United States. Any American that is eligible receives the benefit on the same basis –
except for those American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories,” he said.
“Puerto Rico must contend with a program based on capped federal funding and additional short-term funding that lurches from ‘cliff’ to ‘cliff’. Specifically, Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico is
subject to a hard cap that has been insufficient to support a program that should provide
comparable benefits and should serve the same populations as in the states and the District of
Columbia. In addition, Puerto Rico currently is required to contribute 45% of Medicaid
expenditures under the cap (a 55% FMAP), while states with similar economic circumstances
benefit from far higher federal contribution levels. If Puerto Rico were subject to the same rules
as the states, the federal contribution would be 83%. Ironically, Puerto Rico’s 55% FMAP is
comparable to the 50% FMAP that applies to the Nation’s wealthiest states.”
When asked about COVID-19 vaccinations by Senator Manchin, Pierluisi made a further point about equality.
“Look what happens when you treat us equally,” he said, pointing out that Puerto Rico received the same quantity of vaccines as a state, and achieved a higher rate of vaccination than any of the states.
Governor Pierluisi took the opportunity to point out that Puerto Rico’s greatest need from Congress is admission as a state.
“124 years of unequal treatment towards the American citizens living in Puerto Rico have taken a
toll on our society,” he said. “And it is important to realize that even after the successful restructuring of our public finances and the rebuilding of our infrastructure, Puerto Rico will remain hindered
until our century-long status question is resolved.”
The governor reminded the committee of the November 2020 vote. “The people of Puerto Rico voted and chose permanent union with the United States through statehood as their path forward,” he said. “So many Puerto Ricans have defended American democratic values at home and abroad that lack of representation and voting rights, as well as congressional inaction, are unacceptable.”
Pierluisi concluded, “Congress must call for a vote on the political future of Puerto Rico and commit to implementing the will of the majority. That is what democracy is all about. It is time to act.”
In questioning, Sen. Martin Heinrich said, “Governor Pierluisi. I was quite proud to introduce the Puerto Rico statehood admission act along with a number of my fellow Senators, and if passed this legislation would serve as Congress’s formal offer of statehood to Puerto Rico. There have been a number of plebiscites in Puerto Rico on the question of statehood – including one just last November, I believe. What a Puerto Ricans communicated through these plebiscites?”
Pierluisi responded, “Well, first and foremost, their desire to have a permanent union with the United States. Let’s start with that. And what they’re saying – loud and clear – they’ve been saying it now for quite a while – is that they want equality. They want to be treated the same as their fellow citizens in the States.”