Alia El-Assar

Hispanic Federation Welcomes Inaugural Meeting of Biden White House Working Group on Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Biden administration held the inaugural meeting of its “White House Working Group on Puerto Rico,” a welcome and much-needed development to ensure interagency coordination of the resources and technical assistance the island urgently requires to finally achieve a just recovery. As one of the most prominent nonprofit investors in recovery and rebuilding work in Puerto Rico, Hispanic Federation looks forward to engaging in productive discussions with the new Task Force.

Hispanic Federation called for the reactivation of the ‘White House Task Force on Puerto Rico’ in the Biden Administration’s first 100 days, with expanded responsibilities to include providing advice to the President and the Congress on policies and initiatives for Puerto Rico’s disaster reconstruction, mechanisms to promote and monitor implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations across agencies, and calling for full-time staff to be assigned to support the work of the Task Force.

“Puerto Rico is facing the unprecedented challenge of historic natural disasters on top of an ongoing fiscal crisis combined with years of federal neglect that will require commitment, collaboration, and coordination across all levels of government and sectors of society. We call on the Working Group to immediately engage with Congress and Puerto Rico stakeholders, including community-based organizations that work directly with the people most impacted to ensure disaster relief and other federal funds, including those intended for COVID relief and rebuilding the energy grid, are distributed in a timely, effective, and equitable manner. Full parity in programs like unemployment assistance, SSI, child tax credits, and Medicaid are crucial for all Americans, including those who call Puerto Rico home. We look forward to collaborating with the Task Force on these efforts,” said Frankie Miranda, president and CEO of Hispanic Federation.

“While Puerto Rico still recovers from the effects of climate change, natural and human-made disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Hispanic Federation commends the Biden administration for moving forward another campaign promise related to Puerto Rico by activating the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico. It is particularly promising to see a cabinet-level convening to kick off the work of the Working Group. We sincerely hope the group also recognizes the necessity of fully including Puerto Rico in the administration’s Justice40 Initiative while respecting the voices of island residents in creating solutions and directing federal resources to truly ‘Build Back Better,’” said Laura M. Esquivel, vice president for federal policy and advocacy at Hispanic Federation.

Respect for Puerto Rico includes respect for local renewable goals, climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. Hispanic Federation stresses the importance of all federal funding appropriated for rebuilding the Puerto Rico energy infrastructure complying with federal and local policies that promote moving away from fossil fuels. Creating a resilient, decentralized energy system in Puerto Rico is not just about climate – it is literally a matter of life and death.

President Biden has recognized the unequal treatment of the American citizens who call Puerto Rico home. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with more than three million U.S. citizens, has long been recognized as under-resourced and disadvantaged by the lack of parity in federal programs to support low-income Americans, despite the fact that the island has the highest poverty rate in the nation, even prior to the pandemic, and a larger population than dozens of U.S. states. We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to comprehensively address these long-standing issues.

“The ongoing mistreatment of Puerto Rico has led to an urgent and untenable situation for its millions of residents. We hope the initiation of this White House-led entity signals a renewed commitment from the Biden administration to truly address the immediate needs of residents after facing four years of back-to-back disasters and harsh austerity measures, and to determine a path forward for a full and just recovery that centers the voices, expertise, and desires of the people of Puerto Rico,” said Charlotte Gossett Navarro, chief director of Hispanic Federation in Puerto Rico.