Things That Matter

Trump Administration Slashes Funding For Puerto Rico’s Medicare Funding When They Need It Most

The long-standing feud between President Trump and Puerto Rico has been well-documented. Whether it’s been Trump calling the island “one of the most corrupt places on Earth” or labeling it’s politicians as “incompetent” altogether, this past weekend is just the latest chapter in this dispute. 

President Trump reportedly slashed billions of dollars worth of Medicaid funding that the federal government was preparing to allocate to the U.S. territory. According to Politico, Trump personally intervened with a new $1.4 trillion spending package, which was unveiled by lawmakers this week, that would have given Puerto Rico $12 billion over four years. Instead, the new plan will only allocate up to $5.7 billion in Medicaid funds for the island over the span of two years. 

The change in allocated money is a reversal from the originally agreed-upon sum that both Republican and Democratic leaders on two key congressional committees, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. This came after months of negotiating a figuring out a “long-term financial path” that would have helped Puerto Rico. 

While both Democrat and Republican lawmakers had come to an agreement on the spending bill, President Trump thought that amount was “too much.”

Three sources told Politico that the president didn’t back the first agreed upon deal because Trump believed that the $12 billion awarded “was too much and pushed to reduce the total amount.” Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers had to then revise the amount being given due to prevent a government shutdown at the end of this week.

For Puerto Rico, things haven’t been easy this year as the island has leaned on short term funding extensions since the fall. This is due to it facing a fiscal cliff, a short-term money boost, back on Sept. 30 that would be expiring shortly after. The latest series of funding installments are set to expire this week. 

This funding blow follows the tough times since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 where over 3,000 people were killed and countless homes were destroyed. The hurricane only added more challenges in its negotiations to secure funding for a longer-term agreement for its Medicaid program. According to Politico, the funding “covers roughly 1.4 million low-income people.” In addition, the island has seen economic upheaval and political corruptness, an issue that lawmakers have tried to address by placing stronger measures to prevent inappropriate spending from public officials in Puerto Rico. 

Per Politico, the funding slash was labeled as “a win for President Trump and the American people,” a White House spokesperson said. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, didn’t see it that way. 

“This administration remains committed to properly prioritizing U.S. taxpayer dollars,” Chase Jennings, a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the news outlet. “With the historical waste we have faced in Puerto Rico, additional funding was not needed or fiscally responsible.”

Even some Puerto Rico officials lauded the spending bill that passed, praising the two-year extension of funding that was given. Jennifer Storipan, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, whose role is the main liaison between island officials and the federal government, said that the U.S. territory will only move forward with negotiations to secure long-term funding. 

“We will continue to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a longer-term funding mechanism that provides stable healthcare to the people of Puerto Rico,” Storpan said. 

Not all of Puerto Rico officials were on board with President Trump’s last-minute funding slash. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has previously sparred with Trump, wrote on Twitter that “Trump always discriminates against Puerto Ricans. That is why it is inconceivable that there are still Republican politicians in Puerto Rico who support it.

While Puerto Rico will still be receiving a two-year extension when it comes to Medicaid funding, there is still looming uncertainty in the long run when it comes to health coverage for low-income residents.   

While the spending package would provide additional stability to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program for the next two years, negotiations for additional funding would have to be jump-started again in three years. This has some people worried since the federal government treats the island’s Medicaid program differently because it’s considered a territory, not a state.

Instead, Puerto Rico receives a fixed grant instead of open-ended federal funding which has some like Robert Greenstein, who works with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, worried about the long term implications. 

“With another funding cliff looming in two years under the new agreement, Puerto Rico may continue to lack the certainty it needs to commit to long-term increases of its very low payment rates to health care providers to stem their alarming exodus to the mainland, to provide coverage for such key health treatments as drugs to treat Hepatitis C, and to cover more poor, uninsured residents.”

READ: House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

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Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Another crisis is unfolding on the island of Puerto Rico, as a severe drought grips the territory and forces the government to take drastic measures. After a series of major earthquakes and hurricanes, Puerto Rico is now suffering through one of its worst droughts in history.

Water is scarce. And the government is implementing rationing measures that will leave hundreds of thousands of residents without regular access to running water.

Gov. Wanda Vazquez has announced a state of emergency as the government begins rationing water.

Puerto Rico is once again in the headlines for an ongoing crisis that is affecting hundreds of thousands of island residents. On Monday, Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency as a worsening drought creeps across the territory.

Starting July 2, nearly 140,000 customers, including some in the capital of San Juan, will be without water for 24 hours every other day as part of strict rationing measures. Puerto Rico’s utilities company urged people to not excessively stockpile water because it would worsen the situation, and officials asked that everyone use masks and maintain social distancing if they seek water from one of 23 water trucks set up across the island.

“We’re asking people to please use moderation,” said Doriel Pagán, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewer Authority, adding that she could not say how long the rationing measures will last.

The order signed also prohibits certain activities in most municipalities including watering gardens during daylight hours, filling pools and using a hose or non-recycled water to wash cars. Those caught face fines ranging from $250 for residents to $2,500 for industries for a first violation.

Puerto Rico is experiencing a drought ranging from moderate to severe in some parts of the territory.

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of last week more than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought and another 60% is under a moderate drought. Water rationing measures affecting more than 16,000 clients were imposed this month in some communities in the island’s northeast region.

The island’s access to water is complicated by the fact that many residents rely on a system of reservoirs in Puerto Rico for water. However, due to budget constraints, several have not been dredged for years, leaving sediment to collect and allowing the excess loss of water. 

Aside from drought, the island is still recovering from a pair of deadly earthquakes and Hurricane Maria.

Credit: Eric Rojas / Getty Images

Over the last few years, Puerto Rico has suffered a one-two punch that has left much of the island’s infrastructure in shambles. In fact, Vasquez cited the lasting impacts of the December and January earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic as exacerbating the water crisis.

The current water crisis has threatened the safety and wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. The earthquakes also disproportionately impacted the southern region where the drought is most severe. Vázquez also extended the coronavirus curfew for the whole island, which began in March, for three more weeks, making it the longest continuous curfew in the United States so far.

Mexico’s AMLO And Trump Plan To Meet In July And Everyone Wants To Know What They’ll Be Discussing

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Mexico’s AMLO And Trump Plan To Meet In July And Everyone Wants To Know What They’ll Be Discussing

Hector Vivas / Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Trump has a long history of treating Mexico as a political punching bag. He literally launched his campaign for president by demonizing Mexicans. BUt despite this, Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has said the U.S. president has always treated him with respect. After threatening Mexico with tariffs last year, AMLO deployed troops to deter migration by Central Americans across Mexico to the U.S. – in a move many saw as an act of obedience to Trump.

But Trump’s own rhetoric has also changed. During a visit to Arizona last week, he said that it was Mexico who has helped drive down border crossings.

“If you look at so many of the different crimes that come through the border, they’re stopped. We’ve implemented groundbreaking agreements with Mexico,” Trump said during a round table on border security. “I want to thank the President of Mexico. He’s really a great guy. I think he’ll be coming into Washington pretty soon.”

So the two leaders seem to be on good terms. But a meeting with Trump could backfire.

President Trump and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are planning their first personal meeting for July.

In what would be their first head-to-head meeting, Mexican President AMLO and Trump are likely to meet in the beginning half of July, according to officials. It’s a politically risky move for Mexico’s AMLO, who is already being attacked from across the political spectrum for appearing to appease Donald Trump.

AMLO said that in his meeting with Trump he intends to promote their new trade deal (the USMCA), as well as to thank him for sending medical ventilators to Mexico to help with the growing Coronavirus pandemic in the country. The date of the visit though is still not set in stone, since the pair would also want to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – since his country is also a signatory to the trade deal.

“It is very important for us participate in the beginning of this historical agreement, which is very timely because it will help us in the recovery of our economy and the creation of jobs,” Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference.

Mexico’s economy has been battererd by the Coroanvirus and AMLO is betting its recovery is tied to the U.S., since both countries are facing their deepest recessions since the Great Depression.

Many are speculating about the what the meeting could focus on – with there being so many hard pressing issues between the two countries.

Credit: Evan Vucci / Getty Images

AMLO has made it clear that his stated goal of the visit would be to promote the renegotiated trade deal known as the USMCA, formerly NAFTA. However, the Coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the two countries and it’s likely it will be play a major part in discussions as well.

Apart from these two timely topics, both countries are speculating as to what else the two leaders could discuss – especially since Trump has so often spoken poorly of Mexico and issued sweeping demands in the past.

Will the pair discuss immigration, asylum and the border wall?

For AMLO, this would be his first trip out of Mexico since assuming the presidency in 2018.

Credit: Hector Vivas / Getty Images

AMLO assumed the presidency in December 2018, and since then he hasn’t left the country once. He has sent surrogates to attend globally important meetings, including to the U.N. Security Council election and several major economic forums. Instead, AMLO has preferred to stay in Mexico, traveling from state to state promoting his domestic agenda.

Even though AMLO’s critics have encouraged him to take international trips in the interest of Mexico, this is one that most experts agree is a mistake. They’re skeptical that the meeting will be beneficial at all to Mexico.

In a tweet, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhán, called the potential visit “a big blunder and a mistake,” saying that Trump would only use the Mexican president as an electoral prop. He also called such a visit “suicidal for Mexico’s long-term and strategic relationship with the United States.”

Former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told Reuters he thought a visit was “a dumb idea” considering it is an election year in the United States.

Complicating matters, AMLO will fly to the U.S. on commercial flights amid a global pandemic.

Credit: Alfredo Estrella / Getty Images

AMLO is well-known as being frugal. He turned the palatial Los Pinos (the formal home of the Mexican President) into a cultural center and instead lives in his own apartment. He drives his own Volkswagen Jetta. And he always flies commercial, wherever he goes. And, apparently, that’s still the plan for his trip to Washington despite a global health crisis.

“I am going to travel on a commercial aircraft,” López Obrador told reporters during his morning news conference. “There is no direct trip from Mexico City to Washington, but you can make a stop. I will arrive a day before the meeting that we will have.”

And for Trump, the meeting would be high stakes given the concessions his supporters will want from Mexico.

Trump literally launched his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans. Since then, he’s made several swipes at the country and its people and has pursued inhumane immigration policies that have broken families and likely resulted in the deaths of many. Yet to his supporters, he hasn’t done nearly enough on immigration.

Therefore, it’s widely accepted that Trump will use the meeting as a way to advance his political standing with his core supporters and talk up his ‘achievements’ on border security.