Will the Senate help Puerto Rico?

by | Jun 16, 2016 | Congress, Headlines | Comments

Two bills have recently passed in the House involving Puerto Rico and its economic and Zika virus situations, leaving the United States Senate to act. HR 5278, a.k.a. PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act), passed through the House Natural Resource Committee back in May. Puerto Rico is out of options. This bill is the only way to save the economy, and help prevent the Zika virus from destroying Puerto Rico. The recent primary election showed the disagreements about PROMESA that exist even within political parties. While it remains unclear how Senators will handle the bill, it is likely they will pass the bill just as the House.

In terms of finances, the next big obstacle for Puerto Rico comes on July 1st. The island is scheduled to pay $2 billion in bond payments, which it cannot afford at the present time. July also marks the last of days Congress has to legislate until after Labor Day. Lawmakers have very little time to act on this very pressing matter. Puerto Rico’s economy has suffered for quite some time. Total debt for Puerto Rico amounts to around $70 billion, and that number is continuously growing. Public schools, pensions, and health care have taken spending cuts in the attempt to repay but a fraction of the island’s debt. On top of that, the Zika virus is threatening Puerto Rico, and will not simply go away, even if health care spending is restored. On Tuesday, the island’s only air ambulance company announced it suspended its services due to multi-million dollar debt. If the economy continues on this path, there is no telling what the healthcare industry will become.

[graphiq id=”fJcPTFst8cB” title=”Puerto Rico’s Public Debt” width=”600″ height=”536″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/fJcPTFst8cB” link=”https://www.graphiq.com/wlp/fJcPTFst8cB” link_text=”Puerto Rico’s Public Debt | Graphiq” ]

The US government is attempting to aid the island in rebuilding the economy through PROMESA. However, some are uneasy about utilizing taxpayer dollars to support a population that is exempt from paying federal taxes. That said, Speaker Paul Ryan has been one to stress PROMESA allocates no federal dollars to help Puerto Rico.

 

Many in Puerto Rico support PROMESA

As Clinton won the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico, the 3.5 million Americans on the island showed their support for PROMESA. Clinton’s opponent, Bernie Sanders, strongly opposes the bill. Both Democratic presidential candidates have expressed different concerns over PROMESA. It appears the majority of Puerto Ricans see eye-to-eye with Hillary.

In terms of possible changes to the bill, it was announced on June 7th that Rep. Gary Palmer proposed exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, which requires all cargo being transported between two points within U.S. territory to do so on an American-made vessel with an American crew. The Palmer amendment to H.R. 5278 would allow foreign vessels to transport cargo between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Overall, it seems the Palmer amendment would cause more harm than good, as it could result in loss of jobs and interfere with national security.

 

Zika virus threat looms

The threat of Zika is growing at exponential rates, particularly on the island. The mainland is not immune from the virus, either. Many Puerto Ricans have fled to the continental U.S. to escape the consequences of the crisis, but that may not be enough. Some do not have the means necessary to emigrate, leaving them just as vulnerable. Children suffering from microcephaly as a result of the virus require medical care that comes with a large price tag. Puerto Rico may be forced into paying back their creditors which will pull funds meant for other purposes, including health care. If that happens, the Zika virus will surely accelerate the decline of Puerto Rico.

HR 897

HR 897 a.k.a. The Zika Vector Control Act, also passed through the House this past May. The bill amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, ultimately making it easier to utilize pesticides and insecticides near water sources. This was previously prohibited, but will prove to be an essential part of protecting against the Zika virus which is carried by mosquitoes. This bill has been received by the Senate, but has not yet passed. It remains unclear how the Senate stands on the Zika Vector Control Act.