Senator Maria Cantwell, (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were joined by 44 of their Democratic colleagues in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell demanding action on Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems.
“We write to you with concern for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico,” stated the letter, “and for the financial crisis that is deepening there because Congress failed to address it in the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill.”
Since Congress failed to act in December, Puerto Rico has defaulted on some debts, put austerity measures in place, and is attempting to come up with agreements with its creditors. However, as the letter points out, “Puerto Rico is facing severe economic, fiscal, and liquidity challenges that are placing immediate and growing hardships on the island’s residents.”
The letter goes on to detail some of the signs of these hardships:
- Unemployment rates more than double those of any State.
- 45% of the population lives in poverty, and 58% of those people are children.
- Mass migration away from the Island to the U.S. mainland, shrinking the tax base further.
“It is clear to us,” the letter continues, “that Puerto Rico and its creditors will be unable to stop these trends without some form of intervention.” The specific intervention called for is access to chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, a solution which will have no costs for taxpayers or the federal government. “It is important to recall,” the letter says, “that Puerto Rico was included in Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code until 1984, when Congress inexplicably excluded it from the nationwide approach to resolving municipal insolvency.”
The letter also reminds McConnell that there are costs involved in inaction: costs to provide for the tens of thousands coming to the mainland, costs to cope with the legal and fiscal disorder, and eventual costs to assist with the lack of government services for the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.
Senator Reid, in a speech on the Senate floor, further emphasized his perspective. “This is part of America: Puerto Rico. We must work together to address the severe economic and fiscal crisis that has gripped our fellow citizens. I was in a meeting yesterday where I was told that on the island of Puerto Rico, there is a shortage of suitcases, luggage, because people are leaving. Most of them are coming to Florida. They’re desperate.”
Reid reiterated the main points of the letter, ending with a call to action, “There is no time to spare. Republicans should join Senate Democrats in our commitment to assist our fellow Americans. We must act now to relieve the hardships facing the citizens of Puerto Rico and avoid additional costs to taxpayers.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) set a March 31st deadline for the House to come up with a solution for Puerto Rico, and the letter to McConnell asked him to set a similar deadline for the Senate.
The signers of the letter:
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.)
Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.)
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
Sen. Angus King Jr. (I-Maine)
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.)
Sen Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
Read the full text of the letter.
I love this letter sent to Congress but if any action is taken to help my fellow Puerto Ricans in the island. There must be some form of supervision of any money use to help the island. The island political party’s are curupt in many ways. This is why the island is in this situation. The normal people are not to be the cost of this issue in hand. All the major problems was because they spend like there was no tomorrow. Every town wants this and that and now the cry and pass the buck to the United States. So congress you are correct in requesting more about the island financial books. And to oversee money send to the island.
Puerto Rico will need a COMPLETE reorganization in physical structure and financial structure. Get rid of all the Mayors and create 8 regions with 8 Governors’ meeting weekly with financial administrator(s) dispensing financial control of all expenses until debts are resolved and a fair tax structure is in place to support the overall economy with total accountability to the FED.
How many of these damn democrats sponsor the statehood bill?
When Democrats say “Congress” in a negative way, they ALWAYS mean GOP!!
THIS IS WHY I DESPISE DEMOCRATS!
DEMOCRATS SABOTAGED THE GOP BILL FOR $3.5 BILLION + OVERSIGHT BOARD JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS 2015!
They came out of nowhere chanting “CHAPTER9,CHAPTER9, NO…”SUPERCHAPTER9” !!
The bill went nowhere & the scumbag MSMedia blaned GOP.
@ Antonio Munoz, I share your concerns. I believe that the best course of action is a Federal Fiscal Control Board + Chapter 9 bankruptcy protections ONLY at the discretion of the board. I also believe that programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and full access to the Child Tax Credit should be extended to Puerto Rico (as proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio and House Speaker Paul Ryan).
@ Andres Rocafort, I like the idea of moving towards a county system as has been discussed in the past before it fell by the wayside. Currently the island has 78 mayors, 78 municipal bureaucracies (filled with waste and patronage appointments) and let’s not forget 78 municipal legislatures with an average of EIGHTEEN members each. Let’s replace that with a number of counties. Your idea would work well, 8 counties each of which could correspond to a territorial senate district.
@ Luis Arroyo, unfortunately the blame does lie with the GOP … the so called “Freedom Caucus” in particular. These people are holding Congress hostage because they oppose anything and everything. I am a Republican but I recognize that we need to have compromise between Democrats and Republicans for the good of the nation.