Washington - Joe Biden made key promises for Puerto Rico - such as advancing the status debate, in a fair and binding process binding, and auditing the debt -. These initiatives largely depend on the Democrats being able to control Congress.
Others, such as accelerating access to relief funds after Hurricane María and eliminating restrictions on their use, would depend on administrative actions.
“His plan is filled with good ideas, he could have introduced many of them when he was Vice President, but he didn’t ... We will have to see the U.S. Senate composition in 2021 and how much real political will Biden has to keep his word,” said Rafael Cox Alomar, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and former Popular Democratic Party (PPD) candidate for Resident Commissioner in Washington.
In the short term, if cases involving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) remain pending by January - which is possible – and Democrat Biden is elected president that could lead to dropping the appeals files by the Donald Trump administration seeking to stop the island to access these programs.
The Democratic candidate for the White House did not refer, however, to the other program: the Medicaid Low-Income Subsidy (LIS), which a federal district judge ruled was unconstitutional not to offer to island residents.
In seeking to advance the debate about Puerto Rico’s political future, Biden affirmed his commitment to “work with representatives who support each of the status options in Puerto Rico to engage in a fair and binding process to determine their own status.” This is the first time he is specific about a process that is binding on the federal government, said the Power4PuertoRico coalition.
“After 5 non-binding referendums, this is a welcomed change,” added Power4PuertoRico.
Hours after unveiling his plan, Biden spoke in Kissimmee Tuesday- a key area with a growing Puerto Rican community in Central Florida – and while measuring his words, he gave his support to statehood.
Biden says he believes “statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with equal representation on a federal level. but the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect and act on that,” Biden said. His message was celebrated by statehood supporters, including New Progressive Party (PNP) President and gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi.
Biden’s committee said that he has no position on the November “statehood: yes-or-no” referendum, a vote that the U.S. Justice Department determined does not comply with the federal government public policy.
“If Biden is president, and Democrats win the Senate and the House, and statehood wins, there will be a lot of support for statehood, with a president who supports it,” said pro-statehood lawyer Andrés López, who was among the top Latino fundraisers for the Obama-Biden campaigns.
López, close to former President Barack Obama, said Biden’s support for statehood “is consistent with what he has told me on multiple occasions” and what he has been expressing since 2008.
Cox Alomar, however, thinks that Biden – according to what he says in his government program - aims to remain committed to an inclusive process. “He has not yet expressed a position regarding the November referendum results. We will have to see, if Biden wins, the Justice Department position regarding the results of that plebiscite and how Congress, particularly the House Committee on Natural Resources, reacts,” said Cox Alomar.
The Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), approved by House Democrats and blocked by the Senate Republican majority, are not part of the plan.
Even in the minority, unless a potential Senate Democratic majority wants to change the rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation, Republicans can block any proposal including statehood, as current Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), a favorite to be reelected in November, warned.
The chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Democrat Raúl Grijalva (Arizona), indicated that to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status, the three non-territorial alternatives must be on the table: statehood, free association, and independence.