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By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. March 3, 2021 (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi will meet with top Biden administration officials today, Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2021 for discussions to focus on economic development, disaster relief and the response to the coronavirus pandemic, a White House official said.

Pierluisi will meet virtually with officials including White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the director of the administration’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and domestic policy official Carmel Martin, the official said.

It was not clear whether the administration would address the territory’s referendum last year expressing a preference for statehood or a move by some members of Congress toward that goal.

Pierluisi is an advocate for Puerto Rican statehood. Many Puerto Ricans have long complained that the Caribbean island’s residents are treated worse than other Americans despite being U.S. citizens.

Puerto Rico, which is not a state, is the most-populous of the U.S. territories, with about 3 million people. Biden previously promised to engage with Puerto Ricans who have a range of opinions on statehood.

A spokeswoman for Pierluisi did not respond to a request for comment.

Faith leaders have also been pressing Biden to withdraw a lawsuit filed by former President Donald Trump’s administration to block $2.3 billion in supplemental income payments to some 300,000 aged, blind and disabled Puerto Ricans.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday to agree to hear the case. A hearing is likely in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicut; Additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)

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