OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
March 20, 2019
Dear Presidential Candidates:
We, the undersigned organizations, representing millions from the Puerto Rican Diaspora and allies, strongly urge you to publicly support a comprehensive platform addressing the fiscal and economic crises facing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The people of Puerto Rico, U.S. citizens and residents alike, are still recovering from devastating firsts —including the worst natural disaster and largest bankruptcy proceeding in U.S. history— a depressed economy, and imminent fiscal cliffs in public health, schooling and higher education, public pensions, and nutritional assistance. Many of these challenges are the result of artificial, arbitrary, and often discriminatory decisions made by the federal government in how it treats Puerto Rico. Only bold action spurred by presidential leadership – together with detailed policy prescriptions – can move the needle on these complex issues.
As a presidential candidate, we strongly urge you to publicly support the following policy priorities. Though action is needed on many more fronts, Puerto Rico needs:
● A Marshall Plan-type mobilization to fully rebuild and recover after Hurricanes Irma and Maria
● Full participation of Island residents in critical federal anti-poverty programs such as:
- Child Tax Credit (CTC)
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
● Economic tools such as:
- Jones Act exemption
- Fix how federal tax reform law treats the Island and provide tax incentives for job creation, along with improved labor standards
- Significant public debt relief
● Recognition of the right to self-determination of the Puerto Rican people along with a permanent and self-
sustained, inclusive, fair and transparent process to end 121 years of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico
Attached, please find a detailed background document with more specifics about these and other critical issue areas that will require your action should you become the 46th President of the United States.
We stand ready to assist you and your team to answer any questions or provide more in-depth analysis of Puerto Rico issues and look forward to your prompt response as we prepare to periodically report back to the public on the policy positions taken by all presidential candidates.
Alianza for Progress/Florida
Asociación de Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), PA
Americas for Conservation and the Arts
Bay Area Alliance for a Sustainable Puerto Rico, Leadership Committee
Bay Area Boricuas
Boricuas de Corazón, Inc
Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora
Diáspora en Resistencia
Faith in Florida
Fort Washington Collegiate Church
Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña
Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center
La Tertulia Boricua of San Francisco Bay Area
National Boricua Human Rights Network
National Conference of Puerto Rican Women
National Puerto Rican Agenda
Our Revolution Puerto Rico
Parranda Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans in Action (Los Angeles)
Puerto Rican Alliance
Puerto Rican Alliance of Florida
Puerto Rican Women in Action
Puerto Rico Advocacy Group
Puerto Rico Connect
The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago
Women’s March - FL
SUPPORTING PUERTO RICO MEANS:
Our federal government has a moral and legal responsibility to help the 3.2 million residents of Puerto Rico – and the hundreds of thousands of evacuees who were forced to leave the Island after the storm – recover from the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history. More than 3,000 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria and more than one and a half years later, the Island continues to suffer due to neglect and often mistreatment by the federal government.
The only way the Island can fully recover and thrive is if our federal government provides for critical investments at the scale of a “Marshall Plan” and systematically devotes the resources necessary to rebuild, revitalize, and revive Puerto Rico’s health care system, economy, education, social services, infrastructure, energy, telecommunications, and agriculture systems for long-term stability and resiliency.
What Puerto Rico needs now:
1. MORE FEDERAL RESOURCES:
● There is much more that needs to be done for Puerto Rico to rebuild its basic infrastructure and economy.
● The money Congress has approved for Puerto Rico is helpful but falls far short of what will solve the problem.
● Estimates for rebuilding a resilient island able to withstand future weather conditions range between $94B and $146B.
● Congress has only appropriated an estimated $32 billion specifically for the Island, and most funding already approved under the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief program (CDBG-DR) is not even obligated to Puerto Rico yet.
● Congress and the administration must ensure that funding needed to rebuild Puerto Rico is released promptly and that it is swiftly used by the proper local authorities and communities by eliminating unneeded bureaucratic processes. The reconstruction of Puerto Rico should be a community-driven and centered endeavor.
2. EFFECTIVE HELP FROM FEMA
● 62% of homes that have filed claims with FEMA for repairs have been denied.
● FEMA should not deny claims due to lack of property titles.
● The federal government should ensure accountability in federal contracts and expenditures.
● We support the creation of a 9/11 style independent commission to investigate the government’s slow and inadequate response to Maria.
● The federal government also needs to continue and expand waivers for matching funds from Puerto Rico, since the government is bankrupt and critical services need to be delivered without delay.
● FEMA must use the authority granted to it by Congress to rebuild Puerto Rico using the industry standard rather than the “pre-disaster condition” standard.
3. SUPPORT FOR LONG-TERM ECONOMIC RECOVERY
● The only way to have a sustainable reconstruction and recovery in Puerto Rico is to provide economic development tools for the Island. Some of those tools include:
o Expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to all eligible families in Puerto Rico.
o Include Puerto Rico in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
o Exempt Puerto Rico from harmful new taxes on U.S. companies in Puerto Rico under the new federal tax reform law, and instead provide new incentives for American companies to invest and create jobs in the Island.
o Permanently end inequities in how Puerto Rico is treated under Medicaid, Medicare and all other federal healthcare programs.
o Congress should permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the harmful Jones Act and air cabotage laws that make consumers pay artificially higher prices and increase costs for businesses, therefore harming the economy. While Congress works on this issue, the President should issue a full Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, for at least the duration of this recovery.
o Undoing the fiscal control board: The undemocratic and unelected fiscal control board created under the legislation known as PROMESA has not protected essential services, failed to comprehensively audit Puerto Rico’s debt and failed to implement a pathway to economic growth. Instead, it has pushed a brutal austerity program that has set the Island up for a downward spiral as it tries to recover.
4. DEBT RELIEF
● Most independent observers agree that the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, that came on top of 12 years of economic and fiscal crises, make it impossible for Puerto Rico to fully pay its supposed $70 billion public debt. Our federal government must either allow Puerto Rico to discharge most of its debts, or pressure creditors to write it off.
● Congress should make clear that federal disaster relief funding will not be used to pay bondholders or to free up non-disaster money to pay creditors.
● Disaster aid funds should not be a factor in any calculations on Puerto Rico’s ability to repay creditors.
● Even the Fiscal Management and Oversight Board (FOMB) has stated that at least $6.2 billion of the current debt was acquired illegally. Naturally then, and in agreement with more than 150,000 citizens on the island who have signed petitions, the debt must be first fully and independently audited before any further payments are made to creditors.
● Essential Public Services must be defined and protected to avoid accelerating the downward spiral of the island’s economy, caused by austerity measures that guarantee debt payment over the public good.
● Debt repayment must be conditioned on growth of the island’s economy.
5. SUPPORT FOR SMALL BUSINESS
● Countless businesses were forced to close after the storm and the federal government needs to provide urgent assistance to get this important economic engine for the Island back on track.
● A recent report by the Center for the New Economy (CNE) revealed that 90% of federal disaster relief contracts after Hurricane María have gone to firms in the continental U.S. instead of Puerto Rico-based firms. This needs to change immediately.
● The Small Business Administration (SBA) and other agencies involved in the recovery process in Puerto Rico should endeavor to include Puerto Rican-owned small businesses in any procurement involving disaster aid.
6. SUPPORT FOR EVACUEES
● Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans were forced to move to the states and most have not been able to return.
● Congress and federal agencies should provide resources to individual evacuees, as well as state and local governments, for help finding jobs, housing, schools, health care – including mental health – and other basic services.
7. PUBLIC HEALTH INITIATIVES
● Critical public health initiatives include:
- Vieques & Culebra cleanup
- AES cleanup
- Superfund sites cleanup
- Zero Waste programs
- Caño Martín Peña dredging project
8. ENSURE TRUE PROCESS OF SELF-DETERMINATION
● Puerto Rico has been under the U.S. flag since 1898 and Puerto Ricans were made U.S. citizens in 1917.
● For too long, U.S. politicians of both parties have dodged the issue with empty platitudes and no meaningful commitments.
● After 5 non-binding plebiscite votes have been held in Puerto Rico, the lack of concrete action or direction by the federal government is untenable.
● The next President needs to support a binding process that offers full participation to all sides of this debate and commits the federal government to abide by its outcome.
● The 5 million Puerto Ricans who live in the diaspora, many of whom were displaced by economic downturns and misguided U.S. policies in Puerto Rico, should have a say in the type of relationship their Island home should have with the federal government.
Puerto Rico faces an incredibly difficult road to recovery. In addition to over $70 billion in debt and a crumbling infrastructure, the Island and its people are now suffering from health and humanitarian crises in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, compounded by over 12 years of economic depression. Without additional action at the federal level, it would take a generation or longer for Puerto Rico to rebuild and its people to finally thrive.