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Government Shutdown Solutions Could Leave Out Disaster Aid for Puerto Rico

by Lydia C. Andrews Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 at 11:01 AM
coord@jubileeusa.org

As the Senate and White House struggle to avert a government shutdown, US disaster victims from Puerto Rico to Texas worry a deal on relief and recovery aid will continue to be delayed.

As the Senate and White House struggle to avert a government shutdown, US disaster victims from Puerto Rico to Texas worry a deal on relief and recovery aid will continue to be delayed. Moody’s rating agency estimates that Puerto Rico alone needs an upwards of $90 billion in aid to rebuild.

“Congress has failed to deliver recovery and relief aid to millions of US citizens affected by natural disasters in the last year,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development group, Jubilee USA. “We are really concerned for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The islands were already dealing with high child poverty rates, developing world conditions and financial crises well before the hurricanes struck.”

In the last days of 2017, the US House of Representatives voted for an $81 billion dollar aid package for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The House Bill fell short of the requests made by the Governors of the affected areas. As of Friday morning, Senators were still trying to negotiate some relief aid funding for Puerto Rico.

“It’s absolutely essential that Congress moves forward a recovery package as soon as possible. Aid must be enough to fully fund Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to rebuild to withstand the next storm,” said LeCompte who met with Republican and Democratic leadership on moving forward a recovery package. Since September, LeCompte’s organization generated thousands of petitions, phone calls and e-mails to Congress and the White House to provide relief for the US Territories through a series of action alerts.

As Congress wrestles with a recovery package for the beleaguered islands, Puerto Rico’s oversight board and Governor are preparing to release a new post hurricane economic plan. Before the hurricanes hit, Puerto Rico was entangled in a congressionally crafted bankruptcy process to deal with $72 billion in debt. The new fiscal plan will state how debt will be dealt with in a post hurricane Puerto Rico.

“The new plan for Puerto Rico must address the devastation caused by the hurricane and the problems that caused the prior deterioration of the economy,” a group of notable economists reflected in an open statement they released on Friday. Signers included: Antonio Weiss, former Counselor to the US Treasury Secretary; Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz; Simon Johnson, former International Monetary Fund chief economist; Mario Marazzi Santiago of the Puerto Rican Institute of Statistics; former top United Nations adviser, Jeffrey Sachs; Jason Furman, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; and Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council.

The economist release entitled, “A Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico,” calls for debt relief and substantial aid for Puerto Rico. The statement comes as Congress, the White House and the Island’s Governor and oversight board make decisions around the fate of the 3.5 million US citizens who call Puerto Rico home.

“The new final fiscal plan cannot allow a penny to be paid for debt until Puerto Rico sees positive economic recovery and is fully funded to be able to rebuild to withstand the next storm,” LeCompte noted. “Beyond the significant debt relief needed, Puerto Rico needs to stop all debt payments for at least five years.”

For nearly two years before the hurricanes struck, religious groups in Puerto Rico and the United States were advocating various solutions to deal with the growing financial crisis and high poverty rates. Shortly before Christmas, religious groups gathered in a Congress building to call for relief and aid. Supporting and participating groups included the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, United Church of Christ, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Franciscan Action Network, the National Association of Evangelicals, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Islamic Relief.

During the prayer service, Puerto Rico's Archbishop Roberto González Nieves reflected, "Puerto Rico desperately needs a complete debt relief, funding for rebuilding, and equal access to Medicare, Medicaid and child tax benefit funding. [...] Today we pray with the persistence and tenacity of the widow of the gospel; we pray full of hope that the miracle of compassion, openness toward and solidarity with Puerto Rico may come true."

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