Puerto Rico House speaker: No pension cut or layoff legislation will be passed
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Méndez assured Monday that the lower chamber would not pass any legislation intended to lower government retiree pensions or lay off workers.
“As I have said since day one, this House of Representatives will not approve any legislation that reduces work hours for our public workers–none. Nor will we approve the dismissal of workers in the government, and we won’t move legislation that reduces the pensions of our most needy. That won’t happen. That is my commitment to the thousands of mothers and fathers who work in the government and who have demonstrated in this emergency caused by the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria the need to have them on the payroll,” the speaker said in a statement.
On Sunday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló sent a letter to the members of the island’s Fiscal Oversight & Management Board in which he says he will amend the fiscal plan to remove from the document some of the demands made by the panel created under the federal Promesa law. He said he will submit a revised fiscal plan Thursday that will not include public employee dismissals, labor reform or pension cuts.
“Our public servants worked with the promise of a pension that helps them live out their retirement years fairly. That promise will not be broken. I understand there is a lot of unrest among our retired government employees due to the possible actions that the Fiscal Oversight Board could take regarding their pensions, but I want to make it clear that we are not going to reduce their benefits,” Méndez said. “I hope this doesn’t happen, in any way, but if the Board insists, we will look for all means necessary to avoid these unfair cuts. You gave your best for the people and this chamber will not fail you.”
He added that the New Progressive Party (NPP) lawmakers in the House echoed his statements.
“Our administration arrived with an Oversight Board already installed in Puerto Rico and making decisions. We have done and we are doing the impossible to avoid the reductions this federal entity wants because of our lack of political power. Act 3-2013 disrupted the entire central retirement system, dismantling its finances and leaving it without reserves to pay its obligations to pensioners. Let’s also recall that on Christmas Eve of 2013, the PDP [Popular Democratic Party] approved a bill they alleged would save the teacher retirement system until 2024. That didn’t happen. At that time they said they had saved the retirement systems. Time has again proved us right. They did nothing but condemn thousands of public servants to misery. We [the New Progressive Party] won’t do that,” the speaker said.
Meanwhile, NPP representatives challenged the fiscal board to “comply with Promesa” and act on the recommendations the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico issued in December 2016.
Among these are that legislation providing more resources for programs that use Medicaid funds, especially for the “Mi Salud” government health plan, be approved. The task force’s recommendations stress the need to improve the island’s treatment under Medicare Part A (hospital services), Part B (physician services), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and Part D (prescription drug coverage).
Méndez recalled that the task force recommended that Congress take a number of actions to improve the island’s treatment under programs administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and that Section 24 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code be amended to authorize otherwise eligible families with one or two children to claim the additional child tax credit, providing them with the same treatment that is currently provided to island families with three or more children.
The latter recommendation was estimated to inject $2.9 billion into Puerto Rico’s economy over the next decade, benefiting “about 355,000 newly eligible families and 404,000 newly eligible children in Puerto Rico, with an average credit for all Puerto Rico families of $770,” according to the report.
–Cybernews contributed to this report.