At the risk of the federal government putting the island back into oblivion, Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have led the chorus of more than nine legislators demanding the Democratic leadership “to guarantee that Puerto Rico is treated equally to the states.
“Puerto Rico’s economy was already struggling before COVID-19. Decades of neglect followed by historic hurricanes and recent earthquakes had already made a tough situation worse. Now, with the Island on lockdown in response to COVID-19, businesses, families and workers are suffering even more,” wrote Velázquez in a statement regarding Small Business Administration lending programs.
“It is vital that Puerto Rico receive its fair share of economic small business assistance,” she added.
According to NBC News, other lawmakers like Darren Soto (D-Fla.), José Serrano (D-N.Y.), Raúl Grijalva (D-N.M.), Rubén Gallego (D-Ariz.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Caroline Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif), signed a joint letter with Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez addressed to the House leadership where they outlined “several of the island’s ongoing issues as it responds to the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Data from the initial round of PPP funding suggest that some of the largest lenders may not have fully engaged with the program, meaning many on-Island small businesses are not receiving help they need to keep workers on payroll and their operations functioning or ready to resume functioning once we finally turn the corner on this pandemic,” Velázquez continued.
Although the island’s government, led by Wanda Vázquez, claimed last week to have received $2.2 billion from the Treasury Department, lawmakers argue: “More needs to be done to ensure the island is equipped to survive the pandemic,” added NBC News.
In the letter obtained by the media, the legislators demand that Puerto Rico have access to financing for nutritional assistance, debt forgiveness of community disaster loans, a legislative arrangement so that non-profit organizations on the island can access the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as access to resources and medical services that are urgent for the reconstruction of the territory after the natural disasters that have hit it during the past few years.
“On an island where roughly 1.4 million U.S. citizens live below the poverty line — many of them children, pregnant women, elders and people with disabilities — lawmakers are demanding that both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are expanded to allow Puerto Ricans to fully participate in such federal programs,” the media added.
For her part, and in an interview with MSNBC on Saturday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the island had not yet received the stimulus checks that promised a $1,200 payment for each citizen.
“Money is not getting into people’s hands because of the current local government of Puerto Rico, and perhaps, guidelines that have not been distributed,” said Cruz. “But the problem is not getting the support that we need. The problem is that the support goes to the higher levels of government, and doesn’t reach the people that it’s supposed to reach.”