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WASHINGTON WATCH: April 26, 2022


THE LONG GAME: New funding for Ukraine; GOP’s immigration broadside

President Biden said that he would formally ask Congress to authorize more support for Ukraine as early as this week. He announced the plan on Thursday, when he unveiled an $800 million aid package, which includes heavy artillery, ammunition, and drones. “With this latest disbursement, I’ve almost exhausted the drawdown authority that I have that Congress authorized for Ukraine in a bipartisan spending bill last month,” Biden said. Congress approved $13.6 billion in aid in March. Biden said that the Department of Defense was working on a proposal for a new round of assistance. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that the House could consider the funding as soon as this week. On the Senate side, however, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that he will propose combining new aid for Ukraine with “funding to address Covid-19 and food insecurity globally.”

Beginning with an oversight hearing in the Judiciary Committee this week, House Republicans plan to launch an attack against the Biden Administration on immigration. The New York Times obtained a 60-page internal memo that includes a set of talking points that attempt to portray immigrants as violent criminals and blames the Biden administration for failing to protect U.S. borders. The memo is the handiwork of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is scheduled to appear before the committee on Thursday, where he is expected to be grilled on the lifting of Title 42, the public health restriction that limited border crossings during the pandemic. Jordan’s memo claims that the lifting of the policy demonstrates that the administration prioritizes “illegal aliens over U.S. citizens.” The GOP memo echoes many of the dark anti-immigrant rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump, including claims that immigrants pose a threat to communities. Studies consistently show, however, that America’s 40 million immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born citizens.

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Supreme Court upholds rule that Puerto Ricans are NOT eligible for full benefits

In a major decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that residents of Puerto Rico may be excluded from accessing Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the federal safety net program that provides direct payments to poor, disabled, and blind American citizens. The program was established by Congress in 1972, but excluded citizens living in Puerto Rico and other territories.

As NPR reports: “Challenging that exclusion was Jose Luis Vaello Madero. Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to New York in 1985, and in 2012, after suffering a serious illness, he began receiving SSI payments. Those benefits continued for four years after he returned to Puerto Rico. When the Social Security Administration realized that he was no longer in New York, it not only cut off his benefits, but it also filed suit to recover the $28,000 in payments he received after moving back to Puerto Rico. Vaella Madero claimed that excluding U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico violated the constitution's guarantee to equal protection of the law. Two lower courts agreed. But on Thursday the Supreme Court reversed those rulings..

“Writing for the court majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh pointed to previous high court rulings that had upheld differential tax treatments of Puerto Rican residents. He said that because Island residents are exempt from most federal income taxes, Congress had a ‘rational basis’ for excluding them from eligibility for SSI payments.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor—whose parents were born in Puerto Rico—was the lone dissenter in the 8-1 decision. According to NBC News, Sotomayor wrote: “In my view, there is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others…To hold otherwise, as the Court does, is irrational and antithetical to the very nature of the SSI program and the equal protection of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.” In the wake of the decision, blind and disabled residents of Puerto Rico will continue to get benefits of about $84 a month—approximately one-tenth the benefits available under SSI.

Puerto Rican toll collection system targeted by cyberattack

An electronic toll collection system in Puerto Rico was the target of a cyberattack over the weekend of April 15, authorities said. The incident is followed by three months of attacks on the phone system, internet provider and official online page of the Puerto Rico Senate.

The Washington Post reports: “The system, known as AutoExpreso, is run by a private operator called Professional Account Management. Officials said the FBI is investigating the attack and added that so far, it doesn’t appear any confidential information had been stolen…Previously, in 2021, a cyberattack hit the website of a private company that took over the transmission and distribution of electricity in the U.S. territory. Meanwhile, in 2020, an online scam tried to steal more than $4 million from Puerto Rican government agencies, forcing authorities to freeze nearly $3 million. That same year, hackers targeted the database of Puerto Rico’s fire department and demanded $600,000 in an alleged extortion act.”

Record set for jobs in hospitality, leisure industries

Puerto Rico’s leisure and hospitality sectors accounted for a record-setting 84,300 jobs in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Caribbean Business reported that the seasonally-adjusted figure is up 900 jobs from January and 12,600 more than in February 2021.

“This is another indicator that the tourism industry is recovering from the economic distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are still some steps ahead, especially in those sectors that are not as advanced in the recovery process. Still, these indicators attest that the industry is on the right path to economic growth and creating more and better employment opportunities for our industry workers,” said Brad Dean, chief executive officer of Discover Puerto Rico.


View From The White House

  • To offset high home energy costs, the White House announced on Thursday that it would send more than $385 million to states through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) unveiled guidance directing federal agencies to ensure that projects constructed under the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package are built with U.S.-made materials, including iron and steel.

  • Saying that it lacks the resources to carry on a protracted legal battle, the administration said that it was dropping litigation against a controversial 10-year Texas Medicaid waiver that the Trump administration approved in its final days without going through a public comment period.

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