Washington, D.C. — Puerto Rico needs an urgent, holistic rescue plan to address the many socioeconomic challenges it faces, and the Biden administration has a unique opportunity to provide much-needed relief, resources, and tools for the island to overcome daunting challenges. The administration should also work with Congress to craft legislation to address long-standing inequities in federal funding and change how certain laws are applied. These are the main conclusions of a new issue brief published today by the Center for American Progress.
The issue brief provides a set of policy recommendations that will provide Puerto Rico with much-needed assistance and send a message of serious commitment to resolve long-standing, systemic issues. If properly executed, these recommendations could help Puerto Rico recover from recent natural disasters and put the island on more secure footing for years to come.
Key recommendations the Biden administration should urgently implement include:
- Reestablish the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico. The administration should provide this working group with more resources and authority than before. It should also mandate higher-level participation—at the deputy secretary level at a minimum.
- Waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. This protectionist law dating back to the 1920s has made essential goods such as food less affordable for Puerto Rico’s residents. In addition, the Jones Act could have delayed delivery of aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
- Extend relief to Vieques and Culebra. Residents of these two municipalities continue to suffer due to long-existing abysmal health care access resulting from decades of military exercises, which has also been exacerbated by natural disasters. Federal funding could be directed toward building hospitals to withstand climate change effects, improving ferry systems, and continuing decontamination and cleanup efforts.
- Boost federal agricultural support. Delayed shipments and deliveries after hurricanes Irma and Maria demonstrated the need to have more robust local food sources.
- Address ongoing public safety issues. The Biden administration needs to play a key role in addressing ongoing public safety issues such as narcotrafficking and civil rights protections within the Puerto Rico Police Department.
- Create a task force subgroup to recommend targeted changes to federal regulations that do not comport to realities on the island. A subgroup of the task force could identify other areas where targeted changes to existing federal regulations—or waivers, where practicable—could be crafted to address unique conditions in Puerto Rico.
- Targeted programs for Puerto Ricans with mental health disabilities post-disaster should be a priority for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies. Mental health disabilities are common after traumatizing events, which include natural disasters such as hurricanes Irma and Maria as well as continuous seismic activity. By making this a priority for HHS and other agencies, the Biden administration can ensure that this vulnerable population receives the proper services it needs.
- Work with Congress to deliver aid to Puerto Rico. The Biden administration and Congress can work together in areas such as reducing Puerto Rico’s debt; reexamining the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA); and fostering congressional dialogue on the island’s status, to name a few.
“The time for deep structural change in how the U.S. federal government treats Puerto Rico is here,” said Laura Rodriguez, vice president for Government Affairs at CAP. “The Biden administration has a unique opportunity not only to right many wrongs in how the previous administration mistreated the island, but also to provide a more sustainable ground for future success. These recommendations would help Puerto Rico recover from unprecedented crises and return to a path of prosperity.”
- “Puerto Rico’s Earthquakes Have Put Thousands of Schoolchildren at Risk” by Laura Jimenez
- “The Time Has Come for Progressives To Support Self-Determination for Puerto Rico” by Erin Cohan
- “On the Ground in Puerto Rico: A Population Left Behind, A Monumental Task Ahead” by Enrique Fernández-Toledo, Erin Cohan, Winnie Stachelberg, Angela Hanks, Laura Jimenez, Connor Maxwell, Cathleen Kelly, Michael Madowitz, Kristina Costa, and Brent Woolfork
- “The Impacts of Climate Change and the Trump Administration’s Anti-Environmental Agenda in Puerto Rico” by CAP’s Energy and Environment team
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at gro.ssergorpnacirema@sonicetnomc.