A deal to fund government services for millions of Americans was critical before heading into the new year ($1.7 trillion 2023 Appropriation bill). A status quo funding bill would have been devastating to the American people, including Latino communities.
First, we applaud Congress for heading off Puerto Rico’s healthcare crisis by allocating $3.65 billion in annual Medicaid funding for five years, including a critical increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). With Puerto Rico’s high poverty rate, repeated natural disasters, and ongoing mental health needs, allowing a massive reduction in healthcare funding would have had devastating consequences, forcing the island to impose severe, harmful cuts to its Medicaid programs on one million low-income Puerto Ricans. The new bill also allocates $1 billion in funding to increase Puerto Rico’s energy resilience and improve the electrical grid, long fought for by Hispanic Federation and congressional champions, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senators Bob Menéndez and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Representatives Raúl Grijalva and Nydia Velázquez. These grants will allow low- and moderate-income households to purchase and install renewable energy, energy storage, and other grid technologies.
Other positives in the overall package include 12 months of continued eligibility for Medicaid coverage for children across the country, energy assistance for low-income households to help combat rising energy costs (LIHEAP), exclusion of corporate tax breaks, and a new maximum for Pell grants to support more than 800,000 low-income, first-generation students.
However, the omnibus bill has clear shortcomings that must be addressed in the next Congress. We are devastated and angered by Congress’s failure to capitalize on this opportunity to pass what most Americans agree on: a pathway to citizenship for DREAMERs. Congress has repeatedly failed each and every young person brought to this country as a child, who has gone on to strengthen the fabric of their communities and our country’s economy. Elected leaders continue to force hundreds of thousands to live with their futures held hostage for political gain as court cases continue to attack the DACA program. If the program is struck down, it could lead to senseless family separations and have a devastating effect on our economy. Hispanic Federation calls on Congress to create a pathway to citizenship in the first 100 days of the new session. The future of too many continues to hang in the balance.
Also, the bill does not continue the expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which successfully raised children and families out of severe poverty in the United States and Puerto Rico. In spite of increased funding levels in select programs, this bill does not address the lack of parity in federal benefits that deny U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and other territories equitable access to safety-net programs, like Supplemental Security Income and nutrition assistance.
We are devastated and angered by Congress’s failure to capitalize on this opportunity to pass what most Americans agree on: a pathway to citizenship for DREAMERs.
We recognize that the passage of this bill is critical to millions of Americans, but will continue to fight for permanent solutions so we can truly bring life-changing assistance to those who need it the most.
Frankie Miranda serves as President and CEO for the Hispanic Federation.
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