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

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Mother And Teen Daughter Endured Ten Years Of Separation, A Dramatic Border, And A Covid Hospitalization To Be Together

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Mother And Teen Daughter Endured Ten Years Of Separation, A Dramatic Border, And A Covid Hospitalization To Be Together

Separated from her mother for a decade, seventeen-year-old Cindy (who is only being identified by her first name) took a chance last month to see her. Despite her age, a raging pandemic, and the risks of crossing the Mexico–United States border she journeyed from Honduras to see her mother in New York. Her love for her mother was so deep, she was willing to risk everything.

In her mission, Cindy wound up in U.S. immigration facilities where she contracted Covid-19. After three days in a hospital bed in California, Cindy was finally able to contact her mother who had not learned of her daughter’s hospitalization.

Thanks to the help of a doctor who lent her their phone Cindy was able to make the call to her mother, Maria Ana.

“There are backlogs and delays in communication that are really unacceptable,” Maria Ana’s immigration lawyer Kate Goldfinch, who is also the president of the nonprofit Vecina, explained to NBC.

After learning about her daughter’s COVID-19 hospitalization, Maria Ana feared the worst. “Following weeks of anguish and uncertainty, Maria Ana spent most of her nights painting the bedroom she has fixed for Cindy, just ‘waiting for my girl,'” she explained to NBC.

Last Wednesday night, Maria Ana flew to San Diego to be with her daughter after she’d finally recovered from Covid.

At the emotional mother-daughter reunion, Maria Ana assured her daughter “no one else is going to hurt you.”

After Cindy crossed the border, she spent several days in a detention facility in Texas in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. According to NBC “On any given night, Cindy said, she would share two mattresses with about eight other girls. She could shower only every five days in one of the eight showers the facility had to serve 700 girls.”

“It was really bad,” Cindy told the outlet..

Cindy was among almost 13,350 unaccompanied children left in the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS. This last year has seen over 3,715 unaccompanied children at these facilities diagnosed with Covid-19. Worse, there are currently 528 unaccompanied children who have tested positive for Covid-19 and put in medical isolation.

Now, immigration advocates and families are pressing the U.S. government to pick up reunions of children and their families in the United States. Over 80 percent of unaccompanied minors currently in federal custody have family living in the states. According to Goldfinch, “40 percent have parents in the U.S.”

“So we would think that it would be fairly quick and simple to release a child to their own parent. But because of the chaos of the system, the reunification of these kids with their parents is really frustrating and backlogged,” Goldfinch explained, “most frustrating, of course, for the actual children and their parents.”

While Cindy was in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, no one managed to notify Ana Maria that her daughter was in the hospital according to Goldfinch

“I don’t know why my daughter has to be suffering this way, because it’s not fair. It’s something very sad for me,” Maria Ana explained to NBC

“I’ve already been through a lot,” Cindy went onto share. “But I hope it’s all worth it.”

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Things That Matter

Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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