Gov’t delivers draft fiscal plan to oversight board ‘to put Puerto Rico on the road to progress’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and his Economic Task Force presented on Tuesday the first draft of the Fiscal Plan 2021 to the Financial Oversight and Management Board that the governor said seeks to enable faster access to disaster relief funds, secure more than $2 billion in Medicaid funds and persuade the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to “treat the island as a [U.S.] state.”
Pierluisi said the document consists of a five-year plan that includes economic projections through 2046 estimates, Congressional Budget Office macroeconomic projections “that are more optimistic than those used during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and key initiatives outlined in his government platform and draft budget.
In that line item, the fiscal plan estimates that between the funds received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the government’s pandemic assistance packages, allocations have exceeded $14 billion, which, the document says, represents 20% of Puerto Rico’s gross national product.
“This fiscal plan is the path to follow to get out of bankruptcy and to put Puerto Rico on the road to progress,” the governor said.
Pierluisi said the draft “welcomes the Biden administration’s commitment to increase the availability of federal Medicaid funds, achieving the 83% federal government match to the Medicaid Program.”
Although there is not a budget bill or a resolution filed in Congress to include the island in the federal medical insurance program, the governor said he already has had direct conversations with Biden’s staff, as well as with the congressional leadership, about greater parity for the island in federal programs.
“The president has a commitment to equal treatment for Puerto Rico on an ongoing basis,” Pierluisi said. “That is why I included it in the plan.”
Among other things, the fiscal plan includes an increase in disaster relief funding to $86 billion from 2018 through 2032 in response to the hurricanes that struck the island nearly three and a half years ago.
That increase includes funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and insurance companies, among others.
When asked about the approach of generating wealth based on the arrival of federal funds in exchange for establishing wealth based on local business production, the governor said he “honestly [does] not understand this dependence discourse.”
“I have to say this first. These federal funds are a blessing,” Pierluisi said. “The wealth we have here is generated by the private sector; we know it, and we are going to encourage it to create more and better jobs.”
Pierluisi urges island mayors ‘to tone it down’ with disaster relief bureaucracy complaints
On Monday, before a meeting with Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority Executive Director Omar Marrero, Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández said the government agenda must include how to resolve the “impasse” with disbursing the $100 million announced in February from both the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Relief Fund program to cover disaster relief expenses.
“As of today we do not even have the parameters for the distribution, which indicates that to date we do not have clear dates to address the various situations that we are presented with,” the Villalba mayor said.
When the STAR asked what the central government was doing to address the “impasse,” Pierluisi said island mayors “must sit down with agency chiefs to work on the projects to be financed with federal funds.”
“Some are in the mood to complain and others are in the mood to work,” he said as he urged them to sit down with Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Director Manuel Laboy and Housing Secretary-designate William Rodríguez Rodríguez.
“I know for a fact that they have given all the municipalities basically all the rules of the game to apply for access to these funds,” the governor said. “They are also taking measures to relax the requirements imposed by the federal government.”
“I say it directly, President Biden’s administration, his staff, have made these commitments to me, but instead of complaining for the sake of complaining, what we have to do is to sit down to work, present the projects needed and then, we will help them,” he added. “Everyone will be helped, regardless of which political party they belong to, because here we are in the mood to work.”
Pierluisi said further that “some people here need to tone it down.”
“The elections are almost four years away,” he said. “What we need to do here is to get down to work and stop playing to the crowd.”