Following a strongly-worded letter from Governor Rossello, 58 members of Congress have written to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin asking that the Treasury take action on disaster relief loans to Puerto Rico.
“We are concerned by reports of reduced loan amounts and repayment requirements,” the legislators wrote, “and believe that you must ensure that your proposed terms and conditions help — instead of hurt — Puerto Rico.”
They continued with a statement that “the will of the Congress enacted into law in providing approximately $4.7 billion to Puerto Rico is being ignored.” The Treasury’s decision to reduce the amount provided is, the letter says, “very disturbing” and “incomprehensible.” The letter mentions the delay in providing the funds and points out that similar loans have been forgiven in the past. This makes the Treasury’s focus on repayment — especially when human lives could be threatened by the loss of basic services — inappropriate, the authors said.
“Puerto Rico remains in deep fiscal distress,” the letter ran. “The Department of the Treasury should—instead of acting like a bank or hedge fund in the quest for profit—offer a helping hand by offering generous terms on the loan in order to incentivize a quick recovery on the island.”
The letter reminded its readers that Puerto Rico is still in a state of crisis six months after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Electricity, water, education, and security are specifically mentioned.
“Fully funding a loan at $4.7 billion will help the Puerto Rican government and its 78 municipalities provide basic services for its residents and prevent a mass exodus. Absent such a request, it seems likely that the Puerto Rican government will simply not have the necessary funds to operate at full capacity,” the letter continued.
Signing the letter were Senators Warren, Blumenthal, Gillibrand, and Menendez, as well as Representatives Serrano, Soto, Velázquez, Gutiérrez, Crowley, Norton, Espaillat, Meng, Jayapal, Schakowsky, Sean Patrick Maloney, Hastings, Murphy, Brady, Carson, Grijalva, Shea-Porter, Ellison, Sires, Tsongas, Norcross, Hank Johnson, Frederica S. Wilson, Kathleen M. Rice, Kaptur, Wasserman Schultz, Vargas, Torres, Crist, Esty, Pallone, Carolyn B. Maloney, Visclosky, McGovern, Engel, Boyle, Pascrell, Sablan, Neal, Brown, Moore, Moulton, Lewis, McNerney, Danny K. Davis, Larson, Clay, Lynch, DeSaulnier, Watson Coleman, DeLauro, Lee, Cleaver, and Garamendi.
Mnuchin plans to visit Puerto Rico soon. According to Caribbean Business, he will visit the governor, the fiscal oversight board, and other members of the territory’s government. “We believe the visit will help to manage congressional expectations,” an unnamed source was quoted as saying. Unless Congress directs the Treasury to give the money to Puerto Rico, the source continued, “we are going to operate under current authority that means that we ‘may’ lend the money and we intend to lend if they fall under $800 million.”
Read the full letter: