As Puerto Rico is discussed increasingly in floor speeches, candidates’ statements, and media, it is increasingly noted that Puerto Rico has only two viable options under the U.S. Constitution: statehood in the United States, or independence with or without a relationship with the United States. The people of Puerto Rico voted for statehood in 2012, but independence is also an option.
The question is, would independence be good for Puerto Rico?
A Government Accountability Office study makes it clear that Puerto Rico would be better off economically as a State than it is as a territory.
The report looked at how the financial situation of the island would have been different if Puerto Rico and residents of the territory had been treated equally with the States and their residents in 29 Federal programs in Federal Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011 and in tax laws in 2009 and 2010.
The GAO study showed dollar ranges, given that there are other factors involved, but it determined that there would be significant differences:
- Puerto Rico would have received $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion more under Supplemental Security Income (SSI) aid to low-income elderly and disabled individuals.
- Puerto Rico would have received some $1.5 billion more in Medicare funding for the elderly and the disabled, with the lower estimate due to increased funding in other programs
- $515 million to $1.415 billion more in Medicaid funding would have been provided.
- Funding for the SNAP (food stamps) program might have been reduced by $200 million, or it could have been increased by as much as $700 million, depending on other factors.
- Puerto Rico would have received an additional $115 million in highway construction funding.
Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, concluded that “statehood will mean $9 billion to $10 billion in additional Federal funding … on an annual basis.”
Looking at the examples of Alaska and Hawaii, the most recent territories to become States, we can also conclude that Puerto Rico would see increased tourism and increased business investments if Puerto Rico became the 51st state. Independence would mean the loss not only of the support given to the territory by the U.S. now, but also the loss of these potential increases.
While territories can work out plans for support from the United States if they choose to become independent, as history has shown with the Philippines (which has a Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S.), Puerto Rico would face other losses besides economic ones.
Puerto Ricans would probably also lose U.S. citizenship eventually, as the people of the Philippines did. For many patriotic Puerto Ricans, this would be a wrenching loss.
Puerto Rico would probably lose much military support. While the U.S. does have a treaty with the Philippines, the Philippines receives no assistance from the Coast Guard or the National Guard. Concerns about terrorism and drug-related crime in Puerto Rico may make this a bad time to lose the ongoing support of the U.S. military and the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
This could also be a bad time to lose the ability to travel freely to and from the United States. With more Puerto Ricans on the mainland than on the island, the loss of easy travel without a passport could be a hardship to families and friends seeking to stay in touch.