Congress has held numerous hearing over many years to consider Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory, but Wednesday’s hearing before the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular Affairs and Native Alaskan Affairs to examine the link between Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems and its territorial status represents the first time Congress will examine the island’s economic challenges within the context of status.
As previously reported, the Subcommittee will be holding a hearing on Wednesday, June 24, entitled, “Examining procedures regarding Puerto Rico’s political status and economic outlook.”
Puerto Rico’s territorial status renders it unable to take advantage of opportunities available to foreign countries and U.S. states, providing a hurdle in addressing its current financial and economic problems.
One tool available to states but not Puerto Rico is Chapter 9 of the Federal bankruptcy code, which enables financially distressed municipalities, such at cities and counties, to create a plan with its creditors to resolve the outstanding debt. Legislation pending before the House of Representatives would provide Puerto Rican municipalities the same access to Chapter 9 that those in states have.
As Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), recently pointed out: “While most of the attention in Puerto Rico’s case focuses on technical issues relating to the solvency of municipal bonds and austerity measures, the history of U.S. policies that have resulted in more than three and a half million Puerto Ricans being treated as second class citizens goes largely ignored. Puerto Rico, which is consistently shortchanged in the federal budget, is currently facing looming Medicare cuts while the states receive increases-and this in spite of the fact that the people of Puerto Rico have carried the full load of payroll taxes for the program!”
Falcón concludes that “Puerto Rico’s current fiscal crisis is, in this sense, really a crisis of American colonial policies. Will the United States accept responsibility for the negative consequences of its imperialist past? The irony would be if it is the Puerto Rican diaspora that finally makes the United States’ accountable on this issue.”
The Puerto Rican population in the 50 states currently exceeds that of Puerto Rico. The state-based population has increased most significantly in recent years in Florida, where close to one million Puerto Ricans live. Florida is poised to play a critical role in the 2016 presidential campaign. Roughly half of the Florida Puerto Rican population lives in Central Florida, an area that has been referred to “the swing part of the swing state.”
Witnesses for the hearing have not yet been announced.