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Senator Robert Menendez Calls for Help for Puerto Rico

Robert Menendez (D-NJ), spoke on the Senate floor on Tuesday night about the need to help Puerto Rico:

I again urge, as I recently did in a letter to Secretary Lew, along with seven members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – that the Department of Treasury move beyond simply providing technical assistance and take a full-throated leadership role to resolve this crisis immediately – as we’ve done in previous financial crises.

If we do not act, the result could be financial disorder that will, at the end of day, be much more expensive, much more chaotic, and will, in both the long- and short-term, cost both Puerto Rico and the United States

Menendez reminded the listeners that “the world is watching Puerto Rico,” and asked that Puerto Rico be given the option of chapter 9 bankruptcy for its municipalities, as States are.

Menendez also referenced the Improving the Treatment of the U.S. Territories Under Federal Health Programs Act of 2015 which he introduced with Senators Schumer (D-NY), Nelson (D-FL), Gillibrand (D-NY) and Blumenthal (D-CT):

By making necessary adjustments to certain key payment formulas, HHS could make the practice of medicine a financially-viable option in Puerto Rico – and stem the tide of physicians leaving the island for the U.S. mainland and ensure our fellow Americans living on the island are able to receive the care they need and deserve.

Menendez emphasized that he is not proposing a federal bailout for Puerto Rico. “But,” he added, “there is still much we can and should do to restore solvency to an island home to 3.5 million Americans. Our bond with these 3.5 million Americans who live on the island has always been strong. And our relationship with Puerto Rico is extensive. With more than 5 million Puerto Ricans residing in the United States – more than in Puerto Rico itself – we are inextricably tied.”

Menendez point out that “from the infancy of our nation, the people of Puerto Rico have been there for us – and now we need to be there for them.” He reminded his listeners of the long history of Puerto Rico’s military support of the United States, even before Puerto Rico’s residents gained citizenship in 1917.

He challenged his fellow Senators to work together to correct the inequalities which have contributed to the financial crisis in Puerto Rico,including:

  • Unequal Medicaid and Medicare funding,
  • the exclusion of Puerto Rico from the Supplemental Security Income program,
  • the exclusion of Puerto Rico from the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, which encourages low-income individuals to seek employment, and
  • the exclusion of Puerto Rico from Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Menendez called urgently for help for Puerto Rico:

Unequal treatment at the federal level is, whether we want to own up to it or not, a contributing factor in the current economic crisis, and the lack of federal support has encouraged heavy borrowing by the Puerto Rican government, going back many, many Administrations.

We must do our part – both in Congress and the Administration – to address this crisis, and we must act now, with urgency.

See the video of the speech (starting at 3:32).

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