FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 30, 2017
Faith Groups Convene on Capitol Hill to Urge Increased Aid for Families in Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
WASHINGTON – The National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) & PICO National Network today united with Congressman Darren Soto (D-FL), Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Congressman José Serrano (D-NY), Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for a briefing on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Capitol Hill briefing included testimony from impacted people who discussed the need for additional short-term relief to help families on the islands, many of whom still lack electricity.
Watch the event in full on our Facebook page by clicking here: http://bit.ly/2zBgdlU
“As Latino evangelicals living on the mainland and as a coalition that has been actively responding with compassion to the victims of natural disasters,” said the Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Evangelical Coalition. “The National Latino Evangelical Coalition is very concerned that our fellow-citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands receive on-going, timely and equitable support and treatment commensurate with the devastation they have faced. Our faith compels us to speak up with the millions of our sisters and brothers.”
“In organizing this event, we want to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Denise Collazo, chief of staff for PICO National Network. “While there is tremendous need, there is also tremendous opportunity. Congress must act now to finance rebuilding efforts, ease pressures on the Commonwealth’s budget, and provide resources for displaced residents in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands residents.”
The faith leaders urged Congressional leaders to:
- Cancel the Debt. Puerto Rico’s debt stands in the way of recovery from hurricanes and austerity Even before the storm hit the island was already struggling to find a way to re-finance a crippling $74 billion in debt and over $50 billion in unfunded pensions. Now the territory is faced with a massive burden of hurricane damage repair. It’s hard to see how Puerto Rico can rebuild and repair billions of dollars’ worth of damage and also meet its obligations to creditors.
- Consider Puerto Rico domestic for the purposes of any new taxes on US companies operating abroad.
- Enact a Marshall Plan-style bill that would fully fund the relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, rebuild the islands’ infrastructure – including funding for a new and resilient energy grid – provide full funding parity for federal health care programs on the Island, and enact economic tools so that Puerto Rico’s private sector can once again flourish. There is no sustainable solution to Puerto Rico’s financial and debt crises without economic growth in Puerto Rico.
- Refrain from spending federal taxpayer dollars on rebuilding an old energy grid that is fragile and subject to collapse with every new storm. They should build a new electricity system that is decentralized, one that maximizes the plentiful sun and wind available in the Island.
- Provide liquidity assistance to both government instrumentalities as well as small businesses in order to avoid a debilitating government shutdown or continued hemorrhage of jobs as the economy continues to spiral downwards. Puerto Rico does not have the capacity to continue operating without liquidity assistance. Small businesses also require financial assistance in order to continue being the motor of job creation in Puerto Rico.
- Urge President Trump to renew and expand the administration’s waiver of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico for at least 5 years. There are several bipartisan bills regarding the Jones Act and its harmful application to Puerto Rico. The costs of these onerous and protectionist shipping laws make consumer prices unnecessarily more expensive and could harm relief efforts from other countries. Economists estimate that the yearly costs to the Puerto Rican economy stemming from the Jones Act ranges from $500 million to $1 billion.
- Change longstanding policies that have restricted Puerto Ricans’ access to vital safety net programs.
Medicaid: In the short run, to address Puerto Rico’s urgent liquidity crisis, the federal government should assume full responsibility for Medicaid funding on the island by waiving the local matching requirement. On a more permanent basis, increasing the federal match for Medicaid could provide much-needed budgetary relief to the government of Puerto Rico.
SNAP: Puerto Rico operates a separate nutrition assistance program (NAP) from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) available to States. The program is funded through a block grant, rather than as an entitlement. Temporarily extending the SNAP program to Puerto Rico could help more families access necessary nutrition assistance. Currently, despite a 45 percent poverty rate, only about 26 percent of Puerto Rican residents benefit from NAP.
EITC: Most Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income tax and are unable to claim the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps lift millions of U.S. families out of poverty. Congress should authorize the IRS to allow residents of the island to apply for the EITC for tax years beginning with January 1, 2017.
Child Tax Credit: Under current law, only Puerto Rican households with three or more children whose federal payroll (Social Security and Medicare) taxes exceed the earned income credit are eligible for the Child Tax Credit of $1,000 per child. This limitation should be removed so that Puerto Ricans with smaller families are eligible to receive the refundable credit.
“People of faith cannot look away as millions of U.S. citizens continue to suffer following hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” added Collazo. “The only thing separating the gulf of compassion that Texans experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the concern that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands experienced is skin color and distance; our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are people of color who reside miles from the mainland. But their devastation is our devastation and we will not allow skin color or distance to cause us, or our elected leaders, to forget that God’s people are in need of immediate help. In hosting this briefing, we are urging Congressional relief now.”