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What  is  the  relationship  between  the  United  States  and  Puerto  Rico?  Click  here.

We       you Puerto Rico!

Hurricane Maria — the worst natural disaster to ever affect Puerto Rico and the fifth worst Atlantic storm in history — made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on September 20, 2017.  The majority of the island’s state-owned, already fragile 2,400 miles of transmission lines, 30,000 miles of distribution lines and 342 substations were severely damaged in the storm, leaving 3.7 million residents without electricity.  Air-traffic-control systems were taken out.  Agricultural crops and local fishery reefs were decimated. Roads and bridges were badly damaged, and over 470,000 houses were destroyed.  A full 100 days after the storm, half of the population (or around 1.5 million people) still had no electricity.  Six months later, 16% of the island (or almost 200,000 people) were still without electricity. 


The Trump administration's response to the Hurricane Maria disaster was terrible.  The condescending behavior went far beyond Donald Trump throwing paper towels into a group of Puerto Ricans, an image that quickly became the face of the disaster.  A report from FEMA acknowledged many failures, among them:  "FEMA entered the hurricane season with a force strength less than its target, resulting in staffing shortages across the incidents; field leaders reported some resultant inefficiency in program delivery; and while FEMA mobilized billions of dollars in commodities, the Agency experienced challenges in comprehensively tracking resources moving across multiple modes of transportation to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to staffing shortages and business process shortfalls (read the report here)."


Politico reported:  "No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.  Within six days of Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command had deployed 73 helicopters over Houston, which are critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies. It took at least three weeks after Maria before it had more than 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico.  Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, versus just $6.2 million for Maria victims.  During the first nine days after Harvey, FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.  Nine days after Harvey, the federal government had 30,000 personnel in the Houston region, compared with 10,000 at the same point after Maria.  It took just 10 days for FEMA to approve permanent disaster work for Texas, compared with 43 days for Puerto Rico.  Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had approved 39 percent of federal applications for relief from victims of Harvey, versus 28 percent for Maria."


On March 26, 2019, the Inspector General’s Office at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed that their office was investigating whether there was any “interference” in the distribution of aid money to Puerto Rico.  That same day, Donald Trump solidified his own position when he told GOP allies that he opposed additional disaster aid for Puerto Rico.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was in a meeting with Trump and recounted Trump saying that aid for Puerto Rico “is way out of proportion to what Texas and Florida and others have gotten.”  To complicate matters even further, in July 2019 two former officials of Governor Ricardo Rosselló's administration were arrested for the misuse of federal funds.


Puerto Rico was in bad shape way before Hurricane Maria.  Both the physical and public health infrastructures were crumbling, almost 58 percent of the children there lived in poverty, and the government was essentially bankrupt, driven largely by corruption and horrible financial mismanagement (since Puerto Rico is not a state, it did not have access to Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code at the time).  Puerto Rico had the worst drinking water quality of any U.S. state/territory, and there were several court orders demanding an end to sewage leaks from wastewater plants that violated the Clean Water Act.  Around 446,000 Puerto Ricans left for the mainland between 2005 and 2015, and the government had already announced the closing of 179 public schools due to the financial crisis.  


By 2014, Puerto Rico had racked up $72 billion in debt, due in large part to a long recession caused by the end of a manufacturing tax credit.  In the end, and in exchange for granting Puerto Rico a legal remedy to restructure public debt, the U.S. Congress established the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016.  The Board has seven members appointed by the U.S. President and one ex officio member chosen by the Governor of Puerto Rico. The Board is "tasked with working with the people and Government of Puerto Rico to create the necessary foundation for economic growth and to restore opportunity to the people of Puerto Rico."  Puerto Rico’s case was directed to proceed under a new federal law for insolvent territories called Promesa.

In March 2022, a deal reached through the bankruptcy process came into effect. The agreement is estimated to reduce Puerto Rico’s debt by around 80 percent and is expected to provide Puerto Rico a path to long-term financial stability.  In fact, the Financial Oversight and Management Board thinks this deal will help the Puerto Rican economy grow by 0.05 percent every year for the next ten years.


While we wait, let's remember that

out of this crisis can come huge opportunity!    

Regardless of any chaos, there are things we can do immediately!  At least three additional steps are no-brainers....


United States.  Federal Emergency Management Agency.  "2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report."  12 July 2018

Danny Vinik.  "How Trump Favored Texas Over Puerto Rico."  Politico.  27 Mar 2017

Anne Flaherty and Stephanie Ebbs.  "Federal Watchdog Launches Investigation Into Potential 'Interference' In Puerto Rico Aid."  ABCNews.  26 Mar 2019

Andrew Taylor.  "Trump Opposes Further Disaster Aid For Battered Puerto Rico."  Associate Press.  26 Mar 2019  

Jens Manuel Krogstad, Kelsey Jo Starr and Aleksandra Sandstrom.  "Key Findings About Puerto Rico."  Pew Research Center.  29 Mar 2017

Danica Coto.  "Puerto Rico To Close 179 Public Schools Amid Crisis."  Associated Press.  5 May 2017

"How Puerto Rico Amassed $72 Billion In Debt."  USAToday.  2 May 2016

"Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico."  About Us.  26 Mar 2019

Danica Coto.  "Judge Approves Massive Puerto Rico Debt Restructuring Deal."  Associated Press.  4 Feb 2019

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