Frente por Puerto Rico to lobby Washington for financial aid package
SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked the group “Frente por Puerto Rico” to go to Washington, D.C., for “the next few weeks” to assist in lobbying for financial resources for the island after the passage of Hurricane María.
With “a single voice,” the governor expects the “front” to go to the U.S> capital and demand equal treatment for Puerto Rico. Efforts will focus largely on approving a long-term financial package to rebuild the island, but also include the healthcare issue and the Donald Trump administration’s recently presented tax reform.
Regarding the financial aid package, Rosselló said he expects it to be addressed “within the next month, month and a half,” after the government has final details on the damages caused by María. Some unofficial estimates suggest $30 billion to $ 95 billion in losses.
A lack of congressional action “would result in Puerto Rico not to being rebuilt properly, the potential for a humanitarian crisis and, above all, the mass exodus of many Puerto Ricans to different states,” Rosselló said in Thursday’s press conference.
Several members of Frente por Puerto Rico were present for the announcement, including former Govs. Alejandro García Padilla, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Carlos Romero Barceló; representatives of the private sector and nonprofit organizations; and the presidents of Puerto Rico’s Senate and House, Thomas Rivera Schatz and Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, respectively.
The “narrative” with which they will go to Washington will be decided on next week, when the group will again meet with Rosselló. At that meeting, the group is also expected to establish a work schedule to begin its visits to DC.
The governor also assured that the group will work with the delegations of Texas and Florida in Congress, aiming to secure the necessary support to obtain the resources and actions the local government seeks. It must also connect with the Puerto Rican diaspora to communicate with their members of Congress to advocate for the island.
“There is an environment where the same delegations from Texas and Florida are demanding that Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida be treated equally,” Rosselló said.
Rosselló was confident that sometime before the end of next week, Congress would approve a measure that would give immediate relief to Puerto Rico through nearly $6.2 billion in funds. These include loans of up to $4.9 billion that would inject liquidity to the central government and almost $1.2 billion to support the local Nutritional Assistance Program.
In a 353-69 vote Thursday, the House passed legislation allocating a combined $36.5 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. Of that amount, $4.9 billion will be in FEMA loans available to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with the idea of replacing the loss of revenue. Other aid will go to aid the U.S. West Coast states that had massive wildfires. The measure no goes to the Senate for consideration.
The government of Puerto Rico also expects to obtain within the next few weeks, $4.2 billion to $ 4.6 billion in funds through various federal programs.
In addition to the long-term financial aid package for the island’s reconstruction following María, the governor mentioned healthcare and tax reform as elements that will form part of Frente por Puerto Rico’s lobbying in Washington.
“It is important that Puerto Rico can maintain its tax advantage to sustain our economy here, and of course, that we can implement the economic development tools,” the governor said about the tax reform Congress is discussing.
Rosselló announced early in August the creation of the group with the intention of having diverse sectors represented when advocating in favor of the island for healthcare funds and economic development measures.