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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Defense budget allocates funding for border protection, ensures Vieques cleanup

The U.S. Capitol, reflected in a window outside of the Hall of the States, in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2024. Congress has approved three budget measures, to finance the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State, as well as Foreign Operations, whose language detailed Puerto Rico’s priorities, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón. (Eric Lee/The New York Times)

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said over the weekend that Congress approved three budget measures to finance the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State, as well as Foreign Operations, that detailed Puerto Rico’s priorities.

The resident commissioner assured that language in a report accompanying the Defense Appropriations Act, which requires the Department of Defense to report on the status of environmental cleanup and restoration efforts on the islands of Culebra and Vieques, will continue.

The Defense Appropriations Act (House Resolution [H.R.] 8774) appropriates $833 billion in discretionary funds, representing an increase of $8.57 billion (1%) from the previous year. The bill prioritizes refocusing the Pentagon on its core mission of maintaining combat-ready military forces to deter war and ensure national security. It redirects resources toward initiatives to counter threats posed by countries like China, promote innovation, combat drug trafficking, and support the military and their families.

The report accompanying the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill includes language directing the secretary of Homeland Security to continue prioritizing border security and counterdrug efforts in and around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The document lists efforts through the Caribbean Border Interagency Group, which coordinates operations between the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Security Investigations National, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico and the United Rapid Action Forces (FURA) of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, as well as collaboration with the Defense Department’s Joint Interagency Task Force-South.

The measure also maintains language that allows CBP to sustain its operations and prevent adverse personnel actions in Puerto Rico using annual appropriations from the agency and the funds it receives through the Puerto Rico Trust Fund.

The language has been included in every appropriations bill since fiscal year 2015. González Colón has advocated before the House Appropriations Committee to maintain its continued inclusion.

“Due to a Puerto Rico Trust Fund shortage caused by reduced customs collections, CBP closed a maritime unit in San Juan in 2011. At that time, CBP took that action because it interpreted that federal law required it to use the Puerto Rico Trust Fund or the agency’s annual appropriations, but not both, to finance its operations in Puerto Rico,” González Colón said. “To avoid this scenario, since 2015, Congress has included this language in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act so that CBP can supplement the financing of the Puerto Rico Trust Fund with its budget allocations when necessary and so that its operations on the island are not affected.”

The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 8752) appropriates $64.81 billion in discretionary funds. Of this amount, $3.41 billion goes to defense, and $61.39 billion goes to non-defense. Additionally, the bill provides $22.74 billion for major disaster response and recovery. It provides resources for federal law enforcement and border security agencies such as the Coast Guard and CBP.

As co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, the resident commissioner said the measure includes vital funding to support initiatives to combat the virus globally, “as has always been our Nation’s commitment to the well-being of all.”

“This includes funds for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, maternal and child health, the GAVI Alliance and nutrition,” González Colón noted.

“In addition, the measure provides resources for important issues such as combating human trafficking, efforts to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, democracy programs, and promotes the expansion of the Peace Corps presence in the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing the importance of our global health and humanitarian efforts in the region,” she said.

The Department of State Appropriations, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (H.R. 8771) includes a total discretionary appropriation of $51.713 billion, which represents a reduction of $7.6 billion (11%) from the fiscal year 2024 enacted level. The bill prioritizes national agencies and programs that protect safety, safeguard global economic interests, support U.S. allies, and promote democracy and freedom abroad.

“As these measures advance in the legislative process, just as the rest of the budget measures are considered in the House, we will continue working so that the needs of Puerto Rico are included and we can ensure better federal tools and resources, the resident commissioner noted.

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