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Fecteau: A Federal Failure in Puerto Rico

Friday, September 29, 2017

 

Puerto Rico

The massive humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico deserves a proportionate federal response. At the time of this writing, there are 1.5 million people -- approximately 44% of the population -- without drinking water. Many are starting to run low on food, and millions of people are left with no electricity. This disaster is only exacerbated by the inaction by the Republican-controlled Congress which is more intent on giving tax breaks to the wealthy than helping American citizens most impacted by this terrible hurricane – yes, Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

 

I want to first acknowledge President Donald Trump is rushing military personnel and vessels to the island, but this response is insufficient. Aid is indeed coming – that is not the point of contention. The scale and scope of the humanitarian efforts are scant without Congressional involvement.

 

Mr. Trump is more interested in building obstacles. He restricted travel to Puerto Rico for our lawmakers so they cannot even understand the true gravity of the situation and assess what federal action should be taken. Furthermore, the White House has acknowledged it is unwilling to request a federal aid package for Puerto Rico until early October – a stark contrast to the billions authorized after hurricane Harvey laid waste to Texas (a state Mr. Trump won).

 

Mr. Trump – strangely – even cited the debt the Puerto Rican government owes to Wall Street saying it “must be dealt with” during this crisis. So Wall Street before the lives of fellow Americans, Mr. President? I am not sure what he meant to be fair, but as I do recall, when big banks needed a bailout, they received it and so much more (tough luck to all the Americans on Puerto Rico!). 

 

Mr. Trump has failed to make the people of Puerto Rico a priority the same way he made condemning those players that kneel during an NFL game an urgency. Mr. Trump could use his influence to prod Congress to act because it – just like Mr. Trump –  doesn’t seem too motivated at this point (Congress is too busy pushing a tax cut plan disguised as a tax reform package).

 

Congress does have the capability to act; sending a bill to President Trump’s desk for signature and a signal to those on the island: we care. This package should contain several vital elements. First, Congress could place a freeze Puerto Rico’s debt obligations ensuring that it can receive the appropriate amount of federal aid. Second, Congress has to send a sizable federal aid package as soon as possible and not wait until the first week of October – even though Mr. Trump prefers to wait for some odd reason.

 

Americans are in need, and Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to think this is an urgency. Hence, Congress needs to make this a priority by helping our fellow countrymen and women – send a sincere bill to the President’s desk for signature already! This isn’t about partisanship; this is about doing the right thing for all Americans. Time is of the essence, but tell that to Mr. Trump and Congress.

 

 

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and an Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau

 

Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump’s Budget - 2017

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Gina Raimondo 

RI Governor 

"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse 

U.S. Senator

“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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Jack Reed 

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country. 

The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular.  The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage.  If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets.  That is immoral and ill-advised.

The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings.  In fact, they would impede economic growth.

Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget.  It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires.  It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island. 

While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war.  These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.

I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”

 
 

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