Supporting Debt Relief for Puerto Ricoby Representative Terri A. Sewell
Posted on 2015-12-18
in the house of representatives
Friday, December 18, 2015
Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to stand with our
fellow Americans, the 3.5 million American citizens of
Puerto Rico, in urging Republican leadership to make good on the
promise that action will be taken by March 31st to allow the U.S.
territory to restructure its debt. This agreement made last night is
welcome news as we cannot continue to ignore the urgency of the
mounting fiscal and economic crisis facing Puerto Rico.
On behalf of all Puerto Ricans, including the more than 12,000 who reside in my home state of Alabama, I remain disappointed that a deal to enable the territory to restructure its debt and keep its schools, hospitals, and roads open and functioning past January 1 was not included in the Omnibus. The sovereignty of the Puerto Rican people is our responsibility.
I represent parts of Jefferson County, Alabama, a political subdivision which became the biggest U.S. municipal bankruptcy in 2011. While we all can agree bankruptcy isn't a cure-all and it definitely has its limits, it is often necessary to begin the process of dealing with an unimaginable debt load. Puerto Rico should have the same power to avail themselves of the federal remedies and negotiate directly with their bond holders as every U.S. state has.
Puerto Rico is the third-largest issuer of municipal bonds in the U.S. and now has a debt totaling $72 billion, amounting to $20,000 for every man, woman, and child on the island. As over 50 percent of Puerto Rico's citizens live in poverty, default will potentially lead to a humanitarian crisis.
At no cost to us, we can allow the U.S. territory to restructure its debt and declare bankruptcy, ultimately keeping the basic functions of government open and avoiding real social and economic harm to the American citizens living on the island.
But we can't stop there. We all must remain committed to assisting Puerto Rico in a long-term solution to the economic and social challenges the island has been facing for far too long.
The island territory of Puerto Rico has already suffered a decade of economic stagnation, high unemployment, and cuts in every program from higher education to health care. The government of Puerto Rico has closed 160 schools in the past two years and is spending $2,000 less per student than the average spent in the states. It has laid off 21 percent of its employees since 2008 with further cuts projected in 2016. The Puerto Rican people can ill-afford more cuts. We in Congress must do our part.
We should prevent further crisis by giving our U.S. territory of Puerto Rico the ability to restructure its debt and deal with the root causes of the crisis just as all U.S. states have the ability to do.
I want to commend the leadership of Luis Gutierrez, Nydia Velazquez, Leader Pelosi, Jose Serrano, and Pedro Pierluisi for their tireless commitment to the people of Puerto Rico and all Hispanic Americans. It is because of their efforts that Republican leadership has agreed to take action by March 31st. We all need to follow their lead in standing up for the American people who live, work, and raise their families in our territories.
Today I stand with the Puerto Rican people in urging this body to work together on a bipartisan, commonsense restructuring bill that provides economic hope to the people of Puerto Rico.