Jenniffer González-Colón Secures Puerto Rico Priorities in Funding Bills
San Juan, Puerto Rico- Representative Jenniffer González-Colón announced that the House Appropriations Committee approved Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Interior and Environment Appropriations bills, which include priorities and language requested by the Congresswoman to benefit Puerto Rico.
The Committee recognized the important role of the agricultural sector in Puerto Rico's economy and included language requested by Representative González-Colón directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to submit a report not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act on the efforts and personnel of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Puerto Rico.
These agencies oversee data collection programs that inform farmers and producers in U.S. jurisdictions and help create domestic and international marketing opportunities.
The Congresswoman also managed to include language directing the Economic Research Service (ERS) to publish data on farm cash receipts, farm income, and agricultural exports for Puerto Rico based on the quinquennial estimates provided through the Census of Agriculture.
The Committee also included language directing the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to coordinate with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) , the Forest Service , the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and USDA Climate Hubs to provide a report on research to assist Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the U.S. territories in land and forest resource management; enhancing the viability and sustainability of local food production systems; biology and control of invasive insects, plant diseases, weedy plant species, and the development of integrated pest management strategies to control them; molecular biology and bioengineering advancements on agricultural production and human and ecosystem health in tropical and subtropical areas; and the application of precision agricultural technologies, data, and tools to increase cost efficiencies.
The Committee similarly recognized the destructive effects brought by infestation of the Coffee Berry Borer insect on coffee production, and the negative impact this has on the agricultural sector of Puerto Rico. At the Congresswoman’s request, the Committee directed USDA to assign the necessary funds for APHIS to design a Hierarchical Environment for Research Modeling of Ecological Systems, known as Hermes model, to control the prevalence of this pest on the Island.
Another of the Committee's recommendations, which benefits Puerto Rico, is a directive to the Food and Nutrition Service to include all territories, including those receiving block grants, in any study it does on the Child Nutrition Programs.
Recommended Funding for Agricultural Programs Important for Puerto Rico and Supported by Rep. González-Colón:
$1,971,415 for Puerto Rico's Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). This represents a $1,674,000 increase when compared to Fiscal Year 2020.
During the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations process, González-Colón managed to include language providing $6 million for a study on Puerto Rico's Nutrition Assistance Program, known as PAN in Spanish, including an update of the feasibility study on a potential transition to SNAP, conducted by the Food and Nutrition Services Agency and published in 2010.
This study will identify the percentage of households receiving nutritional assistance and what the average monthly household benefit would be if Puerto Rico participated under the SNAP program.
$2 million for NIFA Grants for Insular Areas, which provide funding to improve agricultural science education in the five U.S. territories and the freely-associated states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau.
$2 million for the Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment Program (RTCP) for Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers.. This program reimburses producers in Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, and the rest of the rest of the territories (Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands) for a portion of the costs they incur when transporting their agricultural products or equipment.
$5 million for the Micro Grants for Food Security Program, which helps increase the quantity and quality of locally grown food through small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations in food insecure communities, specifically in the non-contiguous states and territories.
$15 million for grants for expansion of the School Breakfast Program, of which $2 million is dedicated to the U.S. territories.
Recommended Funding for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Programs Important for Puerto Rico and Supported by Rep. González-Colón:
$37 million for the National Guard Readiness Center in Fort Allen, Puerto Rico. The Congresswoman requested and advocated for this funding, including when she testified before the House Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on March 11, 2020.
Additionally, both the House and Senate versions of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include the authorization for this funding.
$840 million for VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program. González-Colón co-led a letter with Representative Alcee Hasting (D-FL) advocating for funding for this program.
$312,635,000 for veteran suicide prevention. The Congresswoman joined a letter supporting this program and testified on it on March 11, 2020.
Language and Recommended Funding for Interior-Environment Programs Important to Puerto Rico and Supported by Rep. González-Colón:
The Committee rejects the proposal to close the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, located in Puerto Rico. González-Colón advocated for the continued operations of this research facility, which is crucial to advancing knowledge of tropical forests, wildlife, and watersheds at the local, national, and international levels.
$173,588,000 for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Natural Hazards Programs, which includes $86.5 million for the Earthquake Hazards Program. The Congresswoman requested and testified before the House Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee for the highest possible level of funding for this program and its Advanced National Seismic System Regional Network, which includes the Puerto Rico Seismic Network
$500,000 for USGS to update seismic hazard models and maps for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Representative González-Colón requested language and funding to update the seismic hazard models and maps for the two territories, which have not been updated since 2003.
$675,000 per estuary for the National Estuary Program, which includes the San Juan Bay Estuary Program in Puerto Rico. Congresswoman González-Colón joined a bipartisan letter led by Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA), Bill Posey (R-FL), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), and Brian Mast (R-FL) supporting funding for this program. She also co-sponsored and advocated for House passage of H.R. 4044, legislation that seeks to increase funding for the 28 estuaries under the National Estuary Program.