Resident commissioner: Statehood is the only guarantee for accessing federal aid programs
Advances hefty agenda with governor in Washington to demand equality for island
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Confirming that she will be attending President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Monday that she and Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia will have a busy schedule this week as they meet with Democratic and Republican leaders to demand equal access to federal aid programs for Puerto Rico.
During a press conference held at the Economic Development Bank of Puerto Rico, González Colón said issues such as access to federal programs including Medicaid and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, medical resources, vaccines, job and manufacturing tax credits, and federal funding allocations needed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic on the island are priorities.
“To me, it’s important to have that coordination with the governor, and thankfully, we are both focused on making [disbursed] federal funds in Puerto Rico flow at their fullest,” the resident commissioner said. “I think this will be key [to obtaining] pending disbursements from the federal government.”
When a member of the press asked for a response to the U.S Department of Justice withholding access to the SSI program from Puerto Rico due to its commonwealth status -- a case that remains before the United States Supreme Court -- González Colón said she would also be addressing the island’s political status and will use any tool available for islanders to be included in that federal aid program.
“That is why I’m pro-statehood; what will guarantee not only access to these programs like the SSI, but also 100 percent of the Medicaid programs, which Puerto Rico now only receives 11 out of 17 programs, is statehood,” she said. “The same thing goes for the Child Tax Credit and the Work Tax Credit. These are federal programs that are guaranteed if Puerto Rico is admitted as a U.S state.”
Meanwhile, when the STAR asked how the resident commissioner and the governor would convince the U.S. Congress to admit the island as a state given that incoming Senate Majority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is saying that Puerto Ricans remain divided on the island’s political status, González replied that “Puerto Ricans voted and expressed themselves at the polls not with a simple majority, but an absolute majority” in favor of statehood.
“It’s a vote that the federal government must respect,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are people on the island that, because they don’t see this as their political status option, they pretend to ignore it or [try to undermine] it, [but] we can’t go against the majority’s will. We must respect that mandate.”
“Congresspeople know that you can win [a democratic event] with just one vote,” she added.
Pierluisi, meanwhile, said Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic and the security measures as a result of the violent incidents in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 will have an effect on his agenda in Washington.
“In reality, due to all the extraordinary measures that are being taken for security purposes, the agenda is not going to be as comprehensive as I would like,” Pierluisi said in response to questions from the press after Aguas Buenas Mayor Javier García Pérez’s inauguration.
“We are not going to be able to have as many face-to-face meetings as I would have liked,” the governor said. “So what I’m going to do is focus on organizing the Puerto Rico [Federal Affairs Administration] office in Washington, organizing their schedule, making sure we have a good work plan. I am going to meet with Carmen Feliciano, who is going to be running that office, and the staff that is there.”
Pierluisi also said he will be meeting with attorneys and lobbyists who are representing the island in Washington.
“I will have many interviews at media outlets and I will be present at President Biden’s inauguration,” he said. “The agenda in Congress is not defined because, at this moment, most of the congresspeople are avoiding face-to-face meetings. So if I have meetings, it is possible that they will be by digital means.”
Pierluisi and González Colón left for Washington Monday and will spend the rest of the week in the U.S. capital.