Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Charles E. Schumer and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with Grammy award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda of the Broadway show Hamilton, and community leaders, today launched a new push to address the humanitarian and economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Senators Gillibrand and Warren introduced new legislation that would give Puerto Rico the ability to file for bankruptcy protection and restructure its debt in a transparent, orderly way. Senators Gillibrand, Warren and Schumer, Miranda, and advocates for Puerto Rico launched a day of action on Capitol Hill and are visiting offices to urge support for the new measure.
“Congress must take action now to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico,” said Senator Gillibrand (D-NY). “If Congress fails to act soon, the humanitarian and economic crisis in Puerto Rico will become even more dire and more costly to resolve down the road. We have an opportunity right now to help address this crisis head-on in a way that provides the Commonwealth with a transparent, orderly process to restructure its debt. I urge all of my colleagues to act with a sense of urgency to pass this legislation and help put Puerto Rico on the path to recovery.”
“Puerto Rico is in a terrible hole, and if Congress doesn’t act, Wall Street creditors will pick apart what is left of the economy,” Senator Warren (D-MA) said. “Puerto Rican families have been asked to bear huge costs of this long running debt crisis — now it’s time for Washington to do its part to help millions of our fellow Americans who are caught in economic catastrophe.”
“Puerto Ricans are members of the American family,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “And when someone in your family is struggling –you help them out. Puerto Rico deserves the bankruptcy tools to address its debt — tools that won’t cost taxpayers a penny. And we must end the unfair healthcare reimbursements that have shortchanged our fellow citizens there for far too long. Congress must say ‘enough is enough’ and give our family members the help they deserve.”
“As Puerto Rico’s fiscal fire continues to spread, Congressional inaction is only fanning the flames,” said Senator Blumenthal (D-CT). “The legislation we introduced today directly addresses this crisis with critical restructuring authority, thoughtful oversight, and more equal treatment under federal tax and health care programs. With 3.5 million Americans facing immense and irreparable damage, a fiscal and humanitarian crisis is imminent. Congress can still – and must – take urgent action.”
“I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and my colleagues for continuing to highlight the need for Congress to act quickly to help Puerto Rico address its debt crisis,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “Time is running out before the May 1 deadline for Puerto Rico’s next bond payment, and if Congress doesn’t act, Puerto Rico will soon find itself unable to operate its government. We must not allow the 3.5 million Americans living in Puerto Rico to suffer the real-life consequences of fewer schools, reduced access to health care, and severe cuts to essential social services because of Congressional inaction or delay. I urge Republicans to work with us to bring legislation to the Floor that provides Puerto Rico with the same ability other jurisdictions have had to restructure its debt and begin to move past this crisis.”
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) said, “All of us must speak with one collective voice in demanding action on Puerto Rico’s financial and humanitarian crisis. Although different legislative options are being debated, what is most important is the growing consensus that Congress must act now on a solution that goes to the heart of the problem.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “We thank Senators Gillibrand and Warren for introducing this critical legislation that will give Puerto Rico a fair chance to restructure its debt and get back on its feet again. This urgently needed legislation will help Puerto Rico address its growing fiscal and humanitarian crisis. Congress cannot continue to deny the impact this crisis in Puerto Rico is having, both on the island and here in the U.S. We have a full-blown humanitarian crisis that is threatening the livelihoods of millions. It cannot be ignored. Congress must act now so that Puerto Rico has every tool at its disposal to thrive again.”
“When I was a kid I was blessed to spend summers in Puerto Rico,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Those formative summers made me the man I am today. I proudly wave the Puerto Rican flag, but now that my island is suffering and disappearing before us, we all must do more than wave the flag. Today I am here to do my part and take my shot by urging Congress to come together and stop a man-made humanitarian crisis that is urgent and getting worse by the day.”
“We thank Senator Gillibrand and her Senate colleagues for their leadership in tackling the economic and humanitarian crisis taking place in Puerto Rico,” stated Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation. “What is clear is that Puerto Rico is in the midst of an economic collapse that requires immediate federal action granting the commonwealth debt restructuring powers, health care parity and needed tax credits. The time for Congress to act is now.”
“The situation that the economic crisis in Puerto Rico has created is unlivable,” said Jonathan Zamora, who moved from the outskirts of Ponce seven months ago to Boston looking for work and currently works as an aircraft cleaner at Logan airport. “Of my 14 brothers and sisters, only one has a steady job right now, and my father is still looking for work even though he suffered a heart attack and stroke last year. I have to take money from the little I earn to send to my parents to help them get by. People like us did nothing to create this situation, but the burden of the economy falls on us.”
Puerto Rico’s Governor recently declared that the Commonwealth owes $72 billion to creditors, and does not have the ability to make upcoming debt payments while also operating basic government services, such as police and first responder units. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory that is home to 3.5 million American citizens who are enduring dire economic hardship – through no fault of their own – due to poor budgetary practices and misguided Congressional policies, including preventing the Commonwealth from seeking bankruptcy protection while simultaneously eliminating incentives for businesses to invest on the island.
Puerto Rico is taking drastic measures to address its fiscal crisis, including closing more than 150 public schools, closing portions of hospitals, increasing the retirement age, delaying tax refunds, and slashing spending. Despite this, the Commonwealth still spends more than $1 out of every $3 paying back debt. As a result of the growing economic turmoil, more than 80,000 Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island for the mainland United States every year.
Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would address the long-term debt problem and put Puerto Rico on the path to economic recovery by granting it the ability to seek bankruptcy protection, and by allowing the Commonwealth to restructure its debt in a transparent, orderly process with strong and independent fiscal oversight. If Congress does not act now to pass this legislation to grant Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, Puerto Rico will continue to default on its debt, worsening the humanitarian and economic crisis and putting the safety and well-being of these American citizens at an even greater risk, ultimately leaving American taxpayers on the hook to resolve this crisis.
The situation in Puerto Rico is dire and getting worse. 57 percent of Puerto Rico’s children live in poverty and essential services in the Commonwealth are already in peril. For example:
- More than 150 schools have closed and school security guards have not been paid in months.
- Puerto Rico’s only children’s hospital lacks CT and MRI machines, and has 70 vacant nursing positions.
- The supplier of gasoline to ambulances, police cars, and fire engines nearly cut off fuel supplies.
- Towns have gone without water for days at a time because of unpaid previous bills.