The lame duck Congress has four opportunities to help Puerto Rico before it goes home

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I worry about my dad every day. Like any doting daughter, I want him to enjoy his golden years in his beloved Puerto Rico with the least stress possible – he deserves that after serving his country in Vietnam. Since Hurricane Maria, I fear for him too. The storm, its aftermath, and even worse, the treatment of the island since then have kept me up at night thinking about him and the spiraling pressures so many Puerto Rican families likes ours are under — ones that seem to pile up by the day.

Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much these days. But plenty of them agree that the situation in Puerto Rico as a whole is untenable.

{mosads}Despite the existing consensus, Washington has been dragging its feet while the people of Puerto Rico and its displaced families struggle to rebuild amid our government’s bureaucracy and ineptitude. The onus is on congressional leaders to translate bipartisan agreement into policy change that will help Puerto Rico. There are four pieces of legislation this lame duck Congress should act on immediately.

First, Congress should include extending the Child Tax Credit to cover families in Puerto Rico in the 300-page tax bill introduced in Congress by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas). Currently, most families on the Island don’t qualify for the credit unless they have three or more children, an absurd exception to an essential tax benefit. If Congress is already going to consider billions of dollars in tax cuts this year, it should also take action to stop the unequal treatment of Puerto Rico by supporting its working families.

Second, as Congress finalizes negotiations on a massive farm bill, it has the chance to address food insecurity by extending disaster-level nutritional assistance for Puerto Rican families. With over 40 percent of Puerto Ricans living below the poverty line — compared to a national of 14 percent — the Island’s food assistance program needs proper funding more than ever.

Third, in order to provide additional relief for victims of Hurricane Florence and the California wildfires, lawmakers need to pass a disaster supplemental bill this legislative season. That supplemental provides another opportunity to address ongoing relief efforts in Puerto Rico, specifically the unmet costs of Hurricanes Irma and María. Half of those costs — approximately $60 billion — are currently saddling the local government.

Any disaster supplemental should build on requirements in the Bipartisan Budget Act to compel more disclosures and transparency by the Puerto Rican government. Also, Congress should ensure that Puerto Rican communities have a real say in their own recovery by mandating their inclusion in public comment periods and hearings on how aid is used. If President Trump thinks aid has been mismanaged, he should endorse these legislative proposals rather than deny aid.

Fourth, Congress will have various opportunities to have another bite of the apple over the next few weeks on these priorities by including them as part of any continuing resolution.

The fact that the lame duck Congress has punted on some issues and has many others on its to-do list is no excuse for inaction on measures Puerto Ricans have needed for months.

The latest damage assessment from Hurricanes Irma and Maria totals $124 billion. Meanwhile, the government has only authorized less than 10 percent of the funds Puerto Rico needs — $1.5 billion in funding that is just starting to reach the island now, over a year after the brutal damage was done. To make matters worse, Congress has been ignoring the severe economic problems Puerto Rico has been grappling with long before the storm even hit, denying even a hearing on legislation that includes critical investments in infrastructure, energy, and health care as the island rebuilds.

The legislative action outlined above represents the bare minimum our lawmakers can do before the end of the year to give Puerto Rico a shot at a better year ahead. It’s not enough to make me stop worrying about my dad, but at least I’ll sleep a little better knowing the island he calls home is finally getting more of the help it so desperately needs.

Erica González is Acting Director of Power 4 Puerto Rico, which is supported by the Latino Victory Project. 

Tags Donald Trump Hurricane Maria Kevin Brady Puerto Rico

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