Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to include and treat Puerto Rico equal to U.S. mainland jurisdictions in the stimulus package currently being drafted in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
The letter outlined several government priorities to be able to continue responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, Vázquez requested additional assistance for hospitals, urging Congress to provide the island’s healthcare system with the resources necessary so professionals can care for Puerto Rico residents during the emergency.
Puerto Rico businesses and residents have been under a mandatory lockdown and 24/7 curfew, respectively, since Mar. 15. While the current quarantine ends April 12, it is expected that Vázquez will extend it, as the Medical Task Force she appointed anticipates the island’s potential peak to be from April 15 through May 8.
If the island’s health care needs go unmet it “could collapse from the anticipated strain on the system,” she said, asking Congress to provide the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services clear authorization to have discretionary authority to advance funds equivalent to Medicare Advantage reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries.
Currently, the CMS formula only applies to approximately 20% of hospital reimbursements under the Medicaid Program in Puerto Rico.
Vázquez also asked for forgivable Community Disaster Loans to continue the day-to-day task and provision of essential government services as well as avoid furloughs.
“Issuing forgivable CDLs to Puerto Rico will allow for the local government to address the costs related to healthcare necessities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
So far, the government is reporting that more than 600 individuals have been infected with the coronavirus on the island and 24 have died from the illness.
The pandemic compounds two other disasters that Puerto Rico has faced since 2017, when Hurricane María pummeled the island and from the earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks that began in December 2019.
That said, Vázquez asked for Puerto Rico to be included in the House-passed earthquake supplemental bill, which would provide the island with additional Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds and other federal resources to support ongoing recovery efforts.