New York Congressman José E. Serrano, a native of Puerto Rico, wrote to President Obama this week urging federal action on behalf of Puerto Rico.
“We have now reached a point,” Rep. Serrano wrote, “where more action by the federal government is needed.”
The letter referenced Puerto Rico’s debt, which totals some $73 billion. The White House has recently said that the White House is prepared to offer expert advise, but no more. Serrano emphasized the urgency of the situation:
With several large debt payments due soon, there are immediate liquidity challenges for the government. Absent further federal action or some resolution of Puerto Rico’s debt issues, the island will be forced to make severe financial decisions that will hurt both the Puerto Rican people and the national economy.
Serrano listed specific actions that would help, including action by Congress to allow Puerto Rico to use Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy law to restructure some of the territory’s debt. Serrano cautioned, however, that Chapter 9 access will not solve all of the island’s financial troubles. “Puerto Rico needs to implement structural reforms that will enhance job creation, increase economic growth, and attract investment to the island,” he said. He suggested further that the Federal government could help make these changes without creating severe burdens for the people of Puerto Rico, who already experience greater poverty, on average, than the people of any of the states.
For the past 117 years, Puerto Rico has been treated as something less than the rest of our nation. It has been ignored, underfunded, and marginalized. The economic problems that Puerto Rico faces are directly correlated to its current territorial status. We are not going to solve the island’s economic problems until and unless we solve the political status question. Currently, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico does not have equal access to federal programs, and its 3.6 million residents do not have the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow American citizens residing in the 50 states.
Serrano concluded by reminding the president, “Your leadership on this issue is crucial.”