The American Rescue Plan is the reconciliation bill for the COVID-19 relief act. When the House of Representatives and the Senate have two different versions of a bill, they can work together to create one reconciliation bill which works for both houses of Congress. It is currently being debated in Congress, and they hope to have it completed and made into law by the end of the month.
If it passes in its current form, how will it affect Puerto Rico?
Many things will be the same for Puerto Rico as for the states
Workers in Puerto Rico will receive stimulus checks and businesses will be able to apply for PPP payments. The territory will also receive funds for COVID-19 response.
The section on COBRA insurance specifically defines “state” as including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The section on emergency housing assistance lists a specific amount for Puerto Rico, and many other sections say that all the states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico will be included.
In short, Puerto Rico will be treated equally under most of the American Rescue Plan. This is not always the case; Puerto Rico got significantly less help under last year’s CARES Act, for example, than it would have received as a state.
Specifics for Puerto Rico
The American Rescue Plan includes some specific provisions for Puerto Rico and the other territories.
Funds for the Nutrition Assistance Program will be available. There will be $100,000 for the territories to share, with $30,000 earmarked for the Norther Maraiana Islands. The remaining $70,000 will be divided between American Samoa and Puerto Rico. No details on the division are given.
There will also be additional funds for Medicaid.
Tax credits for Puerto Rico
The Child Tax Credit will apply to Puerto Rico as it does in the states for tax year 2021 and beyond. Currently, residents of Puerto Rico are eligible for the tax credit only if they have three or more children.
The federal Earned Income Tax Credit will still not apply in Puerto Rico. However, the federal government will support the local EITC much more strongly than it currently does. Federal funds up to three times the base amount will be provided, as well as funds to cover training of tax professionals on how to claim the EITC.
What does this mean for Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States for more than a century. Puerto Rico belongs to the United States and the United States is responsible for Puerto Rico. No other nation bears responsibility for Puerto Rico, and the United States has no reason or right to shirk that responsibility.
It is good to see fair treatment for Puerto Rico, even when as with the tax credits it is a matter of redressing longstanding unfairness. Does this mean that Congress can and will treat Puerto Rico equitably in the future? Can we say that statehood is not necessary for equality for Puerto Rico?
Unfortunately, no. It is still possible that the American Rescue Plan will be changed before it is passed. It is possible that the provisions for Puerto Rico will be removed. It is also possible that those provisions will be changed in the future, by the current Congress or by some other Congress.
Only as a state can Puerto Rico have full rights and responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution.
Puerto Rico can gain statehood in just one way: Congress must vote on the admission of Puerto Rico as a state. We cannot sit by and wait for members of Congress to think of this for themselves. Many members are already on the right side of history. But there are many who still don’t have the facts they need to understand why Puerto Rico needs statehood.