(Mr. ROMERO-BARCELO asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute and to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. Speaker, for the last three decades, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have been excluded from participating in the Federal Medicaid Program at the same level of benefits as their fellow citizens in the 50 States.
The Medicaid block grant for Puerto Rico is currently capped at only $133 million and, as a result, the Puerto Rico Department of Health has to provide in excess of $700 million annually in local funding to take care of this island's medically indigent population.
Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have actively fought for increased participation by Puerto Rico in Medicaid. I find it unconscionable that the Federal Government would uphold a policy where the health and lives of the people of Puerto Rico are considered to be of less value than the lives of other citizens. And we are talking about citizens, not immigrants or legal residents.
In this spring's balanced budget negotiations, the congressional leadership and the administration agreed to increase Puerto Rico's Medicaid block grant by $30 million in fiscal year 1998 and by an additional $10 million annually through the year 2002.
I am appalled by the fact that this agreement between the White House and the Republican leadership has not been honored in the budget act that we will consider today. I would hope that the commitment made by the congressional leadership with the White House is honored, as all commitments should be.
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