Originally published by The Hill
April 11, 2016
Today, Puerto Rico is facing a fiscal disaster of epic proportions. Congress has been aware of this for some time now as hedge funds, financial advisors, administration officials and business owners have called on Washington to act over the last year. Although it is of utmost importance to know how we got here, and how to avoid it in the future, Congress is duty-bound to act with speed to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
Some have claimed that there isn’t Katrina-like situation in Puerto Rico, and that Congress shouldn’t act until the island’s government defaults. This is an insult to the Americans living in Puerto Rico who have earned, and deserve, the respect of their elected representatives in Washington and every citizen across our great nation.
Puerto Ricans have served our country with distinction, including eight Medal of Honor recipients who died in the defense of our nation – the United States of America. The enemy didn’t ask what kind of Americans they were, the enemy knew, and these Americans died defending our freedoms and way of life.
We know what kind of Americans they are – so much so that on April 13th, U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan will lead a ceremony to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow, on the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, an all-Puerto Rican unit that proved its courage and outstanding abilities in combat and later became known as the “Borinqueneers.”
Recent bipartisan efforts to draft legislation addressing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis have been productive and serve as a first step towards a commonsense solution. Speaker Paul Ryan deserves an enormous amount of credit for his commitment to putting a comprehensive bill forward.
However, wealthy Wall Street hedge funds that hold Puerto Rican bonds have begun spending millions of dollars to spread misinformation in an effort to block congressional action. More interested in their bottom lines than the American families suffering in Puerto Rico, these special interest hedge funds are now actively campaigning against a solution to help the island relieve some of its debt.
Puerto Rico, largely because of decisions made in Congress over the last 118 years, has a 45 percent poverty rate. Its credit rating has been downgraded to junk status, a fact hedge funds over the years have sought to capitalize on. Unemployment on the island is twice the average of mainland U.S.; median income is less than half. These woes are multiplied by the fact that the island has been plagued over the past decade with economic stagnation, massive out-migration of the island’s best and brightest, – including most doctors, lawyers, and other high-level professionals to the mainland – and an eroded tax base.
Residents of Puerto Rico are struggling to receive basic services, with some hospitals now in the quite literally in the dark.Basic services and infrastructure are rapidly dissolving. This is an economic problem created in Washington when Congress chose to decouple Puerto Rico’s economy from that of the rest of the nation.