The humanitarian and economic crisis in Puerto Rico impacts many families in our district.
Puerto Rico continues to struggle to recover from the impact of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in September 2017. These storms destroyed much of the infrastructure on an island that had already been economically devastated by a debt crisis. Puerto Rico has lost more than 10% of its population in the last decade and is projected to lose another 14% by 2019, as Puerto Ricans flee the island after the storms.
There is tremendous opportunity to rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure to enhance resiliency and contribute to the long-term economic viability of the island. The electrical system, for example, needs to be rebuilt with greater emphasis on microgrids and distributed energy resources to improve the reliability of the system. Phasing out Puerto Rico’s old, unreliable power stations would also save over $1 billion a year in payments to off-island oil and gas interests.
But thus far, Congress is not taking its responsibility to Puerto Rico seriously.
More than three months after Hurricane Maria, Congress has not approved sufficient federal funds to support rebuilding. While Senator Sanders has put forward a $146 billion relief package for Puerto Rico, Congress so far has only approved $36.5 billion in disaster relief – split between Puerto Rico and three other states. In 2016, Congress established an undemocratic fiscal control board (the PROMESA Board) to manage the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt, which Puerto Rican families cannot afford to pay. The PROMESA Board has pushed cuts to basic public services, including cuts to the University of Puerto Rico, reductions to public worker pensions and furloughing of government employees. These cuts will only hurt Puerto Rican families and encourage more flight from the island, instead of enabling economic recovery. The US Government has a responsibility to move forward common-sense policies to support Puerto Rico to prosper. When Puerto Rico is thriving, it means our district is stronger.