Friday, May 7, 2021

U.S. House Discusses Infrastructure for Territories Under Build Back Better​ Plan

By on March 24, 2021

Gov. Pierluisi Points Out Puerto Rico’s Many Challenges in Past Years

SAN JUAN — The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the U.S. territories and is chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), held a virtual hearing Wednesday to discuss the infrastructure needs of the territorial governments under President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan.

According to a statement issued by Grijalva’s office, U.S. territories and freely associated states have been hit by catastrophic natural disasters spurred by climate change.

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“Hurricanes and typhoons have killed thousands of our fellow Americans and destroyed power plants, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, and public buildings,” adds a statement issued by the committee. 

Among the invited witnesses were Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, Guam Gov. Lou Leon, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan, Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres, and American Samoa Gov. Lemanu Palepoi.

During his testimony, Pierluisi said that, in recent years, “my constituents have faced numerous challenges.”

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“We have endured multiple natural disasters, a governance disruption, and the struggles related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which began over a year ago,” Pierluisi said. “All of these factors have added to an already complex environment, including the creation and operation of the Financial Oversight and Management Board, as an effort to improve Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic situation and the restructuring of its public debt. Even with the significant disruptions caused by all of these unprecedented events, we have made considerable progress.”

Pierluisi further noted that although a lot of work has been done while still recovering from two unprecedented hurricanes, historic earthquakes, a global pandemic and a “bureaucratic maze” to access federal funding, “there’s still much work to be done.”

“But there is new hope,” Pierluisi said. “President Biden and Vice President Harris have made clear that the American citizens in Puerto Rico deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, that we deserve an equal chance to get ahead, and a government that treats all its citizens equally and has their back when the going gets tough.”

The governor added that according to the Build Back Better Plan, the Biden-Harris administration has pledged assistance in Puerto Rico’s recovery and renewal by supporting “a full recovery” and infrastructure reconstruction “to modern standards”; investing in Puerto Rico’s future through economic development initiatives and “support for families”; providing relief from “unsustainable debt” and expanding access to education and workforce development.

With regard to the reconstruction process, Pierluisi acknowledged Biden’s support by expediting and providing access to federal recovery funds that were withheld and assistance with previously imposed regulations that hindered the island’s long-term recovery. 

The governor also said the island’s infrastructure had to be rebuilt with a focus on resiliency to withstand any future natural disaster, and that “a transformation” of the electric grid was needed.

The governor thanked the members of the committee and the Biden-Harris administration for the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the provisions included in the bill that directly benefit the island, such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and additional language that will further aid Puerto Rico in its recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In his written statement for the committee, Pierluisi also highlighted the $100 billion in funding as part of Biden’s plan for school construction that includes funds for Puerto Rico, stating that the funds would provide “much-needed resources to rebuild schools and meet codes for earthquake safety.”

Finally, the governor spoke about the island’s political status, highlighting that 52.5 percent of the island’s 1.2 million voters chose statehood “as the best option to solve” Puerto Rico’s status issue in the November 2020 general elections.

“To ignore the plebiscite results is undemocratic and un-American,” he said. “It is time for Congress to act on the moral and political imperative conveyed by our clear message. A few weeks ago, on the date we commemorated 104 years of United States citizenship, our democratically elected resident commissioner, Jenniffer González Colón, and our friend Congressman Darren Soto filed a bipartisan bill that represents the answer our people deserve. H.R. 1522 sets forth the process for Puerto Rico to become a state of the Union.” 

Pierluisi added that this was not the first time the island’s status issue was discussed in Congress.

“Now we reassert that courage by asking Congress to offer statehood to the American citizens of Puerto Rico,” he said. “The majority rules in our democratic system. And the majority in Puerto Rico wants statehood. It is up to Congress now to show the world that the democratic principles of equality apply to all American citizens. Puerto Ricans have earned it and we will fight for it until we achieve it.”

The full text of the witnesses’ testimonies can be found here.

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