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Statement of the Hispanic Federation on the Puerto Rico House Bill

May 20, 2016

Hispanic Federation has issued the following statement on PROMESA.

“Over the past year, as Puerto Rico has suffered through its gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the island's 3.5 million American citizens have waited for Congress to act; allowing Puerto Rico's government to restructure its debts and begin a path toward economic growth and stability. The recent introduction of bipartisan legislation by the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee is an encouraging sign that Congress is finally making some progress on meeting its responsibilities to support Puerto Rico. The Hispanic Federation (HF) and its network of 100 Latino nonprofits sees this legislation as an important first step on a very long and arduous road to recovery for Puerto Rico and its people.

HF believes that any legislation to solve this crisis must allow Puerto Rico to restructure all of its debt, which this legislation will permit. The inclusion of a moratorium on litigation by bond holders against the island is also an important reform that will empower the Commonwealth during negotiations. We also thank lawmakers for removing the unnecessary provision that could have made the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge subject to private development.

To be clear, this bill is far from perfect. While concessions have been made to remove some of the most egregious provisions of the proposed oversight board, we are still deeply concerned that the board would have the power to block laws, regulations, and contracts approved by Puerto Rico’s democratically-elected government. We will be following closely the implementation and composition of the board. One thing is clear: the autonomy and the right to self-governance of Puerto Rico’s people must be respected.

In addition, we are still very troubled with provisions that would allow the lowering of the minimum wage for a subset of Puerto Ricans and overtime pay reductions. It is very hard to swallow and justify how pay cuts for a people already struggling with a 45 percent poverty rate is going to uplift the economic climate of Puerto Rico. Equally important, more must be done to protect and prioritize the pensions of retirees to avoid harming struggling working families and the fragile economy.

But the fact remains that this version of PROMESA is the best chance we have now to get some federal relief for the people of Puerto Rico, especially regarding the immediate need for debt restructuring powers that will enable the Commonwealth to negotiate for a reduced debt burden and a manageable repayment plan. Moving forward, there are additional challenges Congress and the White House must tackle through subsequent legislation and administrative action to truly turn things around for Puerto Rico including resolution of the federal health care financing disparities that undermine the quality of health care on the island and the need for progressive federal tax reforms and infrastructure investments.

We have strong allies in this fight, and together with them we will continue to work to ensure that this bill and future needed legislation advance the interests of the people of Puerto Rico.”