• The Star Staff

Oversight board submits 2020 report to US gov’t with recommendations for exiting island’s bankruptcy

By The Star Staff

The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB) has submitted its 2020 report to President Donald Trump, the U.S. Congress and Puerto Rico’s Legislature with recommendations to help the U.S. territory exit bankruptcy.

“FOMB is committed to returning to the process of restructuring the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s debt as soon as reasonably possible. Exiting bankruptcy remains one of the most important near-term goals,” FOMB Executive Director Natalie Jaresko said. “Further, FOMB will continue to push for reform and will ensure that government spending remains within Puerto Rico’s means. Puerto Rico’s future depends on fiscal responsibility and sustainable economic growth.

“The Commonwealth 2020 Fiscal Plan lays out the critical fiscal and structural reforms needed to rebuild Puerto Rico’s economy, and it lays out the process to get the reforms done.”

The annual report discusses necessary reforms to meet the objectives of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, as well as the assistance provided by the oversight board. The report also encourages the federal government to support Puerto Rico in the following areas:

* COVID-19: Extend federal COVID-19-related unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. Provide additional Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) funding to allow the Puerto Rico government to continue providing NAP benefits to the most vulnerable populations for another year while the island recovers from the economic distress of COVID-19. Allow Puerto Rico to participate in the Pandemic-EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) program, so that Puerto Rico can better provide school meals.

* Jones Act: Grant a temporary Jones Act waiver for shipment of liquefied natural gas within the U.S., allowing for the use of foreign-flag vessels while American Jones Act-qualified carriers are built.

* Medicaid: Legislate a long-term Medicaid program solution to mitigate the drastic reduction in federal funding for healthcare in Puerto Rico when the temporary extension expires and provide equitable treatment to residents of Puerto Rico in all Medicare programs.

* Earned Income Tax Credit: Explore ways to extend a Federal Earned Income Tax Credit to residents of Puerto Rico to promote formal labor force participation, especially among low-to moderate-income workers.

* Nutritional Assistance: Collaborate with the Puerto Rico government to institute a work/volunteer requirement for participants to receive the NAP, Puerto Rico’s largest welfare program. Transition Puerto Rico into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure equitable treatment in federal food nutrition assistance.

* Eligibility for housing assistance: Begin using the Department Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines to set the income limits that determine who is eligible for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing assistance in Puerto Rico, as is done in most U.S. states.

* Child Tax Credit: Extend the full federal Child Tax Credit to residents of Puerto Rico to provide the same treatment that is currently provided to families across the U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Regarding social welfare programs, just this week U.S. District Court Judge William Young ruled that to deny Puerto Ricans access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SNAP and Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) benefits solely due to their residency in Puerto Rico is unconstitutional.

“The Court enjoins the government from enforcing the unconstitutional provisions and implementing regulations of the SSI, SNAP, and LIS programs insofar as they exclude residents of Puerto Rico, against the plaintiffs and all similarly situated applicants residing in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” Judge Young said. “The Court grants the Government’s request for a 60-day administrative stay of the injunction, except as to the nine named plaintiffs in the case.”

The ruling was issued Monday in the Peña Martínez et al. v Azar case, in which nine plaintiffs had sued to gain access to the programs.

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