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Half of the nearly $4 billion in funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. Photo: Susan Walsh/Getty Images

Miguel Cardona visits Puerto Rico to announce $4 billion in pandemic relief

The U.S. Education Secretary is the first cabinet member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit the island.

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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Monday, June 28 that Puerto Rico will receive nearly $4 billion in federal education pandemic relief funds to help boost its ongoing fight against COVID-19. 

Cardona made the announcement during his official three-day trip to the U.S. territory, the first of its kind for a Biden cabinet member. It also marks the first time the island will have full access to these funds. 

“I am honored to be in Puerto Rico — the island of my roots — as the federal government releases critical funds to support Puerto Rico’s efforts to safely reopen its schools for in-person learning,” Cardona said, according to The Associated Press.

Dozens of public and private schools in Puerto Rico have reopened in March for the first time since the start of the pandemic. However, less than 100 out of more than 850 public schools were not authorized to resume classes. 

The only children allowed back in for in-person learning were those in kindergarten, special education students, and those in first, second, third and 12th grade. This group of students still faced restrictions, as their classes were only held until noon, for just two days a week. 

Unsurprisingly, attendance was low, as concerns over the virus persisted on the island. 

“The students of Puerto Rico have suffered enough,” Cardona said. “It’s time to get back to school safely and quickly.”

Approximately half of the nearly $4 billion in funding will come from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law in March to help the country recover from the pandemic in terms of finance and public health. 

In April, officials closed all schools down again following an increase in COVID infections. Some were not reopened again until May. 

Three months ago, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi reportedly revealed that the island had the authority to access $912 million in federal education money. 

For more than a year now, many teachers and students have been facing power outages and unreliable or nonexistent internet access throughout their use of virtual learning. 

Some 24,000 students failed their classes this year, with 13,000 of them receiving an “F” in all of their courses. This led the island’s Department of Education to conduct summer courses to help them, by using $210 million in previously approved federal funds. 

In addition to meeting with Gov. Pierluisi, Cardona said he will also be meeting with parents, teachers, students, union leaders and others to ensure that the U.S. is fully aware of everything going on so it can “best support Puerto Rico.”

Prior to Biden taking office, the island was blocked from receiving certain federal funds in a timely manner. 

In 2017, Puerto Rico was in desperate need of federal aid following the destruction of Hurricane Maria. The island was left without clean water and power for months, and there many areas in recovery mode

According to a new report from the Washington Post, the Trump administration put up bureaucratic obstacles that successfully delayed and stalled about $20 billion in hurricane relief funds. 

It then obstructed an investigation into the holdup, according to an inspector general report

Under Biden’s direction, and the three-day visit of our Latino Secretary of Education, the island is finally able to receive and benefit from federal aid, which will now be used to revamp their education system. 

Puerto Rico, which has a population of 3.3 million people, has reported nearly 123,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 COVID-29 deaths. 

As of Monday, 42% of the island’s population was fully vaccinated, according to the Times.

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