Resident commissioner: COVID-19 relief package would give $1,400 to individuals

By John McPhaul and The Star Staff

The proposed COVID-19 relief package released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives would extend the child tax credit (CTC) and earned income tax credit (EITC) to Puerto Rico, give individuals $1,400 in stimulus checks and extend unemployment benefits, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Tuesday.

“The new COVID-19 aid bill of the Ways and Means Committee incorporates the CTC and EITC measures that I have worked on in a bipartisan way since I came to Congress,” González Colón said in a written statement. “I am grateful to Committee Chairman Richard Neal, with whom I have discussed the measures, for including them. These proposals are vital for the economic development of Puerto Rico; in addition, they represent relief for the working class.”

In the past, the resident commissioner introduced HR 106 to make working families in Puerto Rico with one or two children eligible to receive a federal tax credit of up to $2,000 per child. The CTC is slated to benefit about 355,000 families and 404,000 children on the island, comprising a $300 million annual economic injection.

González Colón also introduced HR 105 to extend the EITC to Puerto Rico. The federal government would match up to three times the credit for local work.

These initiatives have been promoted by the resident commissioner since her first term in Congress and are contained in a letter she sent to President Joseph Biden in which she discussed her list of priorities for the island.

Under the proposed legislation, parents can claim a CTC of up to $2,000 for each child under age 17 who is a citizen. The credit is reduced by 5% of adjusted gross income over $200,000 for single parents ($400,000 for married couples).

The legislation also includes a third round of stimulus payments at $1,400 per family member, for individual taxpayers earning less than $100,000, for heads of household earning less than $150,000, and under $200,000 for joint filers.

The benefits of the Coronavirus Response for Families First Act are extended to paid sick leave and paid family leave credits that expire from March 31 through Sept. 30, 2021.

The unemployment benefit, which expires in May, would now be extended to August 2021 and would increase to $400 per week from $300 per week.

Employers who kept paying employees during the pandemic would have until Dec. 31, 2021 to request a credit.

The draft of the legislation will be voted on this week in the House Ways and Means Committee but it is not known when it will go for a vote on the House floor.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia thanked the U.S. House leadership, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, for including Puerto Rico in the full extension of the CTC in the House’s Budget Reconciliation Bill.

“Make no mistake, this is a historic breakthrough in our fight for equal treatment as U.S. citizens,” Pierluisi said. “The full child tax credit will encourage economic growth, support Puerto Rican families, and strengthen our communities.”

“The legislation sponsored by the Democratic majority in Congress calls for an increase in the size of the child tax credit,” the governor said. “For years, residents of Puerto Rico have been subject to an unfair and disproportionate treatment where the refundable portion of the child credit only applies to families with three or more children.”

In 2021, he said, the CTC provision provides for $3,600 over a year for children under age six and $3,000 for children under 18, amounts that apply to Puerto Rico. The payments would phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2022 the three-children limitation will no longer apply to Puerto Rico.

According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, Biden’s economic relief agenda – including the CTC boost and other measures – would cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half.

Additionally, Congress will reimburse Puerto Rico for expanding its EITC. The U.S. Treasury will provide a match of up to three times the current cost of Puerto Rico’s EITC if the island chooses to expand its current EITC. Such a move would increase labor participation and provide much needed tax credits to workers.

“Today, Congress has unveiled legislation that provides much-needed relief to families struggling against economic hardship and children living in poverty,” said Carmen Feliciano, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. “We are grateful for the congressional leadership’s efforts in making this a reality for all Puerto Ricans in need.”

Pierluisi added that “[w]e are one step closer to achieving equality for our people.”

“Full extension of the child tax credit to Puerto Rican families and inclusion of the EITC program has been a priority for the government of Puerto Rico for many years, and during her tenure in Congress, our Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón has been a champion of ensuring that American citizens on the island have access to these programs” he said. “We estimate that thousands in Puerto Rico would benefit from these credits. It is certainly a game-changer for our families and for our economy.”

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