A federal interagency task force, created to advise the Puerto Rican government on fiscal and economic matters, will meet with Puerto Rican officials next month, but will not provide any additional financial assistance, knowledgeable sources said Wednesday.
The group was formed by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico, which includes every cabinet-level federal agency. The task force was originally created during the Clinton Administration to study statehood options for the debt-burdened territory, but President Obama signed an executive order in 2009 which directed the group to expand its responsibilities to include economic development on the island. The new group will help identify areas where the Puerto Rican government can make better use of its existing resources, according to territory officials.
Puerto Rico's Secretary of the Interior, Ingrid Vila Biaggi, said the commonwealth's government retains a closing working relationship with the federal task force but stressed that the island's economy remains independent of federal control.
A statement released by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said members of his administration meet "periodically" with members of the federal task force.
Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who serves as the island's limited representative in Congress, said the U.S. should be doing more to spur economic development because Puerto Rico is unfairly marginalized by many federal programs that benefit the 50 states.
"In meetings and other communications, I have been urging the administration to move beyond monitoring the situation in Puerto Rico, asking them to take specific and concrete steps to help the governor and his economic advisors formulate sound fiscal policies that will spur economic growth and enable the territory to maintain access to capital markets," Pierluisi said. "I am encouraged that the inter-agency team will help identify instances where the Puerto Rico government is not taking full advantage of current federal funding opportunities, but I would urge the administration to go further. Because it is a territory, Puerto Rico is excluded from key programs, like supplemental security income and the earned income tax credit, and treated unequally under numerous other programs, like Medicaid, Medicare, the child tax credit, and temporary assistance for needy families."
A lobbyist familiar with the situation in Puerto Rico said the group will do what the task force has been doing for several years by helping to find ways the territory might be failing to make the most of its billions of dollars in annual federal aid. The high profile "formal, organized" trip of this group down to the island may signal "a little bit more of an effort" on that front, the lobbyist said.
"Agencies do travel down there, the task force only once or twice a year," he said.
Most Puerto Ricans want more federal aid to help stimulate the economy, the lobbyist added, but none is likely forthcoming. Congressional aides said recently that the pressing need to resolve questions about the federal debt ceiling make any effort at legislative relief for Puerto Rico a long shot.