Forcing Puerto Rico to make more budget cuts will leave the island's residents more vulnerable to the Zika virus and hurt attempts to curb its spread in the mainland U.S., a report released by the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee states.
The report released by the committee’s staff Wednesday states that Puerto Rico’s Department of Health has endured $135 million in cuts over the past five years as part of the U.S. territory’s austerity measures.
In addition, doctors are fleeing the island, which the committee blamed on underfunding of Medicaid, the federal/territory funded insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.
This is happening as estimates are that health care costs for a year of new cases of microcephaly, a developmental condition that is striking babies whose mothers are infected with the Zika virus, will be more than $2 billion.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, but can be sexually transmitted and passed from mother to children.
“We have heard from opponents ... that the real solution to restructure some of Puerto Rico’s debt is for the commonwealth to just cut spending more deeply,” said Grijalva, D-Ariz. Such cuts would be irresponsible and dangerous, he said.
The House has been grappling with legislation to assist Puerto Rico with its $72 billion debt. An initial draft released earlier was pulled back just before it was to be voted on because of extensive opposition.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said revised legislation was being finalized by the committee, following negotiations with the Treasury Department, Reuters reported Tuesday. Congress returns from recess next week.
The report particularly raises concerns that Puerto Rico’s rainy season began in April and continues through November, a period of ideal conditions for mosquitos and mosquito breeding.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates one in every four Puerto Ricans will be infected with Zika within the year, if it is uncontrolled. Failure to control it also could drive the spread of the virus to the mainland U.S., the report said.