Senator Bill Nelson spoke on the Senate floor recently about Puerto Rico’s financial crisis:
We’ve all heard about the current situation that Puerto Rico finds itself, and they are suffering. They’re having trouble paying their bills, and their economy is in shambles. And some people have the attitude, well, that’s not our problem.
But they’re forgetting the fact that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It’s a territory. It is not a foreign country. Puerto Ricans are American citizens. If a problem exists in Puerto Rico, it exists in the United States. It isn’t something that we can just ignore. And it impacts the entire country.
Nelson is not only saying that the United States has a moral obligation to Puerto Rico based on the contributions Puerto Rico has made in the form of tax payments, military service and more. He’s not talking about the state-based funds that have invested in Puerto Rico’s bonds. He’s pointing out that the financial crisis in Puerto Rico has immediate, direct effects on the mainland U.S.
If the economy continues to suffer in Puerto Rico, the people there will just move to another part of the country. I want to repeat that. If things are bad in Puerto Rico economically, they — Puerto Ricans — can move to another part of the country. This is not immigration. This is a move to the mainland, and many Puerto Ricans are leaving Puerto Rico because of its troubles.
Now, happily, many of the people that live on the island are moving to Florida. They’re adding to the diversity and immense fabric of Florida that reflects the entire country.
But our gain in Florida is Puerto Rico’s loss. There are more than a million people in Florida alone that may have preferred to stay at home on the island with their friends and their family, people who otherwise would be opening small businesses or new doctors’ offices in San Juan are opening them in Orlando. This only hurts Puerto Rico’s economic future.
States and communities could struggle with more new residents than they can handle, or they might benefit, as Nelson says Florida has, but at a further loss to Puerto Rico’s economy.
Nelson spoke out for equality for the people of Puerto Rico, both in their treatment under federal health care programs and under chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.
He concluded with a call to action:
We should move the proposals that we can move in this legislative body, and we should do it with haste.
There are more than 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico. They are U.S. citizens who unlike most U.S. citizens, have no one to represent them in this chamber, and only have a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives… We cannot turn our backs on fellow Americans.
By the way, when it comes time to defending this country in our national security, look at the percentage of Puerto Ricans that sign up for the military.
They are fellow Americans. And I ask my colleagues to look deep in their hearts and find a way to come together to help the island of Puerto Rico, a territory, our fellow American citizens, to get through this troubled time.