Panel of Experts presents solutions in Congress to reduce child poverty in Puerto Rico

On September 25th, the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico (YDI) brought together a group of expert economists and specialists in children and youth development, to present at the United States Congress, the most outstanding findings of the study The Impact of Hurricane Maria on the Childhood of Puerto Rico. The IDJ call came up with the purpose of presenting the conditions in which children live in Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria, and to advocate to public policies leaders to develop policies that meet their needs during the recovery period and include in their government programs solutions to reduce child poverty in Puerto Rico, which is currently 57%.

The event was co-sponsored by the resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, along with the Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and had an attendance of more than 60 representatives of the Congress, both by the Republican Party and by the Democrat, who wanted to know first-hand results of the study, commissioned by the YDI with the support of Save the Children, Massachusetts United Fund and the Angel Ramos Foundation.

The activity was moderated by Amanda Rivera Flores, Executive Director of YDI, who said that for Puerto Rico to thrive, the implementation of comprehensive public policies related to child poverty is vital. In her introduction, she explained that the percentage of child poverty that existed in 2016, 57%, was practically the same as it was in 1999 (58%), at a time when the economy of Puerto Rico had not yet fallen into the depression in which is found, so she indicated that it is important to analyze what information these data communicate and what opportunities present.

The panel was integrated by the president of the firm Estudios Técnicos, Graham Castillo; MDRC Program Development Director, John Martinez; the principal director of U.S. Emergencies of Save the Children, Jeanne Aimee De Marrais; the interim dean of the Department of Economics of the Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), María Enchautegui; and the Professor and Economist of the Center for a New Economy (CNE), Gustavo Bobonis.

In his presentation, Graham Castillo explained that according to the study, commissioned by YDI and conducted by Estudios Técnicos, almost one of three families with children suffered a loss of income in the wake of Hurricane Maria. He also indicated that 43% of the families faced difficulties to feed themselves and that the percentage reaches 50% when it comes to the poorest families. In addition, he explained that because of the economic impact of the hurricane, low-income families in Puerto Rico had complications for the payment of utilities (40%), the purchase of food (38%), clothing (24%) and materials for the education of children (21%).

John Martinez indicated that before Maria, the youth unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was 17%, twice the average of the United States, and recommended adopting and expanding evidence-based youth programs, such as Job Corps. For her part, Jeanne Aimee De Marrais, shared her perspective on the challenge children are facing in Puerto Rico and how it compares with other natural disasters.

The economist María Enchautegui, said that in the case of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, the children were weeks unable to return to school, because of the collapse of the electrical system and the limitations in the drinking water access. She added that to complicate things further, the emergency plan of the government of Puerto Rico uses many schools as shelters, preventing children from having a return to normality quickly.

“In the recovery plan of the government of Puerto Rico, no mention of childhood was found. This need to be questioned. For example, schools are instrumental in providing stability to children after a natural disaster”, said Enchautegui, who warned of “disconnection of the labor market” for poor families and the ” federalization ” of child assistance programs.

The Professor at the University of Toronto, Gustavo Bobomis, mentioned that many of the poor families depend on federal programs such as the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF), the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN) and Medicaid. In that sense, the economist highlighted the fact that for the federal fiscal year 2020, Puerto Rico once again faces a fiscal abyss in access to Medicaid funds that usually finance almost half of the health plan of the government of Puerto Rico. He also explained that the government of Puerto Rico has been ineffective in providing counseling to families with mental health problems, which becomes another obstacle for parents to gain access to a job.

The resident commissioner in Washington, Jennifer Gonzalez, addressed to advocate and support public policies, such as the extension of the Child Tax Credit to families with 1 and 2 children in Puerto Rico. González recalled that the full extent of the island’s credit for dependent children found consensus in the Working Group of the Congress on Economic Development in Puerto Rico, which was created temporarily by the Promesa law.

To conclude the event, the YDI called for action to support the extension of the Child Tax Credit in Puerto Rico. “It’s an issue that has bipartisan support in Congress and has been included in nine bills. A total of 53 congressmen have co-sponsored these projects, but they have usually been one-party measures, which has made their approval difficult. It is essential that public policy leaders at the federal level include it as a priority issue”, said YDI Executive Director, Amanda Rivera Flores.