Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló issued a letter to the Congressional leadership in the U.S. Senate and House outlining key measures still awaiting approval to fully recover from the devastating 2017 hurricane season.
In his letter, Rosselló emphasized that while Puerto Rico recovers from the worst natural disaster in FEMA’s recorded history, the U.S. territory’s government has been diligently “cooperating with all of the stakeholders and working as a partner to be responsible and responsive to the needs of Congress, funding agencies and the U.S. taxpayers.”
“Never before has a state been required to handle a recovery effort costing many tens of billions of dollars while concurrently being under federal oversight and facing long-term, structural financial challenges” yet “…both Congress and federal agencies have held Puerto Rico to a higher standard than other states and territories and have treated us differently than other U.S. citizens on the mainland.”
The governor made several requests to lawmakers, all of which the island’s government expects to be addressed before the end of the current session, known as the lame duck.
FEMA Cost-Share for Categories A & B
Among the measures being requested, the island’s government is asking for an extension of federal cost-share for FEMA Categories A & B, which expired on Sept. 15, 2018, to complete debris removal and other emergency work.
“Significant emergency response work remains to be done on the island of Puerto Rico,” the governor told legislators, “Over 15,000 properties have been identified for demolition or which require the removal of debris that poses an immediate threat to public health and safety.”
Medicaid and Medicare funding
Another item on the agenda is the continuation of Medicaid Emergency Funding and to begin a transition to a sustainable funding formula.
“I implore Congress to take immediate action to address the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico’s healthcare system, especially as it relates to the impending Medicaid cliff, which remains a serious threat to the health and well-being of our people,” Rosselló wrote.
The U.S. territory, unlike states, does not receive proportional funding for Medicaid which jeopardizes the healthcare of millions of Americans who, if they lived stateside, would not be facing these hurdles, he said.
“Should these problems become severe enough, this would inevitably increase the outflow of Medicaid recipients to the mainland states and could put further strain on our provider population of physicians, nurses and other skilled healthcare professionals.”
Nutritional Assistance Program
Millions in Puerto Rico depend on the island’s Nutritional Assistance Program for nutritional needs, especially in the wake of devastating Hurricane María, which left many unemployed.
“For the last three and half decades the U.S. Congress has treated American citizens in Puerto Rico differently when it comes to meeting essential nutritional needs. In 1982, Congress removed Puerto Rico from the Food Stamp Program and created a separate block grant called the Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) which provides significantly lower benefits, has a much lower poverty threshold for eligibility, and leaves many families in need without the food security that they would have living in the states,” the governor stated.
Given the limitations of NAP and its inability to provide food security to those in need, Governor Rosselló “is requesting an additional disaster appropriation of $600 million for Puerto Rico’s NAP to avoid a significant cliff in March 2019.”
Caño Martín Peña
The letter states that “the communities along the eastern half of the Caño Martín Peña, a tidal channel within the San Juan Bay Estuary in Puerto Rico, face public health and safety challenges directly associated to the environmental degradation of this ecosystem and recurring flooding,” a situation made worse by Hurricanes Irma and María.
In and around the Caño Martín Peña, more than 3,000 structures still discharge raw sewage into the remains of the channel, exposing 27,000 residents to polluted water and sediments.
In his letter, Rosselló urged Congress to “support the selection of Caño Martín Peña as a new construction start under the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019,” P.L. 115-244” in order to “protect the U.S. citizens in its vicinity from the inevitability of future natural disasters in the upcoming 2019 hurricane season.”