President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced their hopes and plans for Puerto Rico well before the election in “The Biden-Harris Plan for Recovery, Renewal, and Respect for Puerto Rico.”
The plan begins with this statement: “Joe Biden believes that Puerto Rico, and the more than 3 million American citizens who call it home, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
While heavily focused on economic development, the plan does not shy away from mentioning Puerto Rico’s political status, saying, “Moving forward to a future of renewal and respect is not fully possible without addressing the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status, which has been debated for decades.”
This statement was written before the November 3rd plebiscite in which Puerto Rico voters once again chose statehood. Although it is not an explicit commitment to statehood, Biden has spoken in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico and the Biden-Harris Plan provides additional assurance to encourage Congress to take its next step in that direction over the next four years.
Planned action for Puerto Rico
Biden intends to form a new task force on Puerto Rico. The Trump administration dropped the task force, which had been active under Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Bush.
The Biden administration will take on four primary goals, according to the Plan:
- Supporting a full recovery and infrastructure reconstruction to modern standards.
- Investing in Puerto Rico’s future through economic development initiatives and support for families.
- Providing relief from unsustainable debt.
- Expanding access to education and workforce development.
The plan goes on to detail specific actions, including making sure that all the federal funds promised to Puerto Rico will actually be delivered.
The Plan also mentions some specific debt forgiveness and commits to rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.
“To assure Puerto Rico’s future, we must reduce its unsustainable debt burden; Puerto Rico’s annual debt service is 28% of revenues, more than five times that of the average state,” the Plan points out.
“The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) of 2016 aimed to address this crisis by providing tools to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt and lead Puerto Rico’s economic recovery. When PROMESA was passed, no one envisioned two devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. In light of current conditions, the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) needs a meaningful shift in approach.
Biden will chart a new path for tackling Puerto Rico’s unsustainable debts that takes into consideration new challenges. Biden will support efforts to more effectively address the debt burdens hampering Puerto Rico’s economy.”
The Plan lists as priorities the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s energy systems, healthcare, equal nutrition assistance, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
The Plan also mentions a number of steps to improve education in Puerto Rico:
- Invest in and rebuild the public school system. This includes preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds as well as full funding for students with disabilities and those living in poverty.
- Invest in school infrastructure. With as many as 95% of schools still not fully repaired after the 2017 hurricane season, Puerto Rico will receive significant funding to rebuild damaged school buildings and provide safe schools for all the territory’s children.
- Provide pathways to college and the workforce. The cross-agency Puerto Rico task force will be asked to work on strengthening connections among schools, colleges and universities, and industry in Puerto Rico to make sure high school graduates have the opportunity to move on to college or into the workforce.
- Invest in the University of Puerto Rico as an engine of economic growth. Puerto Rico will be included in Biden’s plans to support institutions of higher education that serve members of minority groups.
- Increase mental health support. Research on mental health among Puerto Rico’s children shows that children have been affected by the trauma of the hurricanes and earthquakes the Island has experienced. Puerto Rico’s school systems will receive more support for counselors and other health professionals.