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House speaker seeks unified call for PR’s full inclusion in federal social programs


By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star


Rep. Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, the speaker of the island House of Representatives, called on Monday for leaders to “prepare a consistent message” to advocate for Puerto Rico to reach parity in Medicaid assistance and achieve equal access to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and federal food assistance programs.


In a press release, Hernández Montañez said leaders and organizations must join forces to “identify common ground” and push members of Congress to include islanders in the federal social programs.


The House speaker thanked President Joe Biden for “keeping his word” to promote giving the island full access to the programs.


“Today is a day of joy for all Puerto Ricans,” the Popular Democratic Party legislator said. “After many efforts in which we asked President Biden to order the federal Department of Justice to withdraw the certiorari writ [from the Vaello-Madero case] and include the residents of the island in the federal social justice program, we are more than pleased with the determination.”


“The task has been long and complex, but it does not end with what the White House achieved,” he added.


The House speaker said Biden’s proposal would be penned through a budget resolution “because it is the most effective vehicle for advancing the causes of Puerto Ricans.”


“This type of legislation can pass with 51 votes, 50 Democrats in the Senate and one from Vice President Kamala Harris,” he said.


Hernández Montañez said he would be sending a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to request the withdrawal of the writ from the Vaello-Madero case so “the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s decision can be ratified and this benefit can finally be received.”


He also said he would be sending letters to the Finance Committees in the U.S. House and Senate.


The House speaker noted that currently on the island, and after the changes proposed by the Biden-Harris administration, the programs would operate as follows.


For Medicaid, the funds assigned to Puerto Rico for Medicare are allocated in blocks and end next September.


“The government uses it to finance, through ASES [the Spanish initials for the Health Insurance Administration], healthcare for low-income individuals,” he said. “By receiving parity in the program, the allocation is made by formula without the need to lobby in Congress effusively every four years to include the island in the federal budget.”


Hernández Montañez said the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the SSI program, meanwhile, “will positively impact $2.3 billion annually on the island and benefit close to 300,000 Puerto Rican children and adults.”


The legislator said minors, adults and seniors with disabilities would receive SSI benefits as the program aims at people who cannot work partially or permanently due to their functions.


“In times like the ones we are living through, the fact that this assistance will be available to more citizens in Puerto Rico is an achievement that will bring tranquility, hope, and social justice to the people,” he said. “The funds from this benefit will be deposited directly into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts.”


Hernández Montañez further emphasized that Puerto Rico residents having access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, will benefit the food industry.


He said SNAP would “impact the food industry in supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers’ markets while bringing sustenance to the neediest homes on the island.”


The island Family Department would be responsible for administering the federal food assistance program.

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