Two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, most of the Island remains without electricity, safe water is not available everywhere, many businesses are still closed, and many people are still homeless.
Natalie Jaresko, Executive Director of the PROMESA fiscal oversight board, predicts that 170,000 people will have left Puerto Rico between Hurricane Maria and the end of the year. In testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, the committee responsible for U.S. territories, Jaresko explained that the hurricanes have changed the situation in Puerto Rico.
“The hard truth is that the island now needs help — emergency and restoration funds and assistance on an unprecedented scale,” Jaresko told the committee. “Before the hurricanes, the board was determined that Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities could achieve balanced budgets, work its way through its debt problems, and develop a sustainable economy without federal aid. That is simply no longer possible.”
The problem of workers leaving Puerto Rico has been an ongoing one, as the Island has lost 10% of its population over the past decade. additional population losses will make it hard to reestablish prosperity in the U.S. territory, which has been under the oversight of a fiscal board since former governor Alejandro Padilla announced that Puerto Rico could not pay its debts.
Since everyone born in Puerto Rico is a U.S. citizen, just as everyone born in a State is, the easiest solution for many people whose homes have been destroyed is simply to move to a State. Those who cannot afford to leave Puerto Rico may be in shelters waiting for emergency tarps for months.
Those who can afford to leave are doing so. Florida, the closest State, is seeing a large influx from the Island. Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) has pointed out that the U.S. government may not have a choice between providing support for Puerto Rico and not doing so, so much as between providing support for Puerto Rico or providing more support for Florida and other States accepting the floods of evacuees from Puerto Rico.
Jaresko’s report specifically reported that continued outmigration from Puerto Rico to the States would be the logical outcome if federal funds are not committed to helping Puerto Rico recover from the hurricanes and get back on a path to prosperity.