Bringing debt relief to the island began even before the 2017 impacts of Hurricanes Maria and Irma
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has joined other faith leaders to endorse a letter asking Congress and the Biden administration to continue the work of addressing debt crisis in Puerto Rico.
“Working with the White House, our island’s government, and Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress, with the efforts of many social sectors on the island and in the United States, we collaborated with others to achieve legislation to address the emergency debt crisis,” the letter states. “The legislation was a promise to cut our debt to sustainable levels and protect our people.”
“Today we acknowledge that while some aspects of this promise were fulfilled, other aspects of the promise never came to benefit our people,” according to the letter. “We acknowledge the debts that were cut and some of the protections that were won for our children and retirees.”
The process of seeking debt forgiveness had already begun when Hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017. “Then came the earthquakes, and the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus added new challenges to debt resolution and recovery,” the letter states.
“As religious leaders we do our best to be pastors of our flocks, to comfort our people and to seek justice for them,” the letter says. “Out of necessity these past seven years we have had to learn how debt, tax and economic issues exacerbate poverty and inequality for our people. With our partners in the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, Asia and throughout the developing world, we learned a sobering lesson: the history of debt is that it often takes several restructuring attempts before reaching a lasting settlement. While we acknowledge the progress in Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy accords, we know our work has not ended, but must continue.”
The letter says the following measures are among those “essential for preventing Puerto Rico from having to renegotiate the debt again and again, and to ensure that we deal with the impacts of climate change and end our staggering child poverty epidemic”:
- Prioritize funding and measures that end child poverty in Puerto Rico and protect the island from the impacts of climate change.
- Prioritize economic development by expanding manufacturing jobs and building quality, sustainable infrastructure.
- Move forward at least $50 billion of additional disaster recovery aid and accelerate disbursement of the $55 billion Congress has already allocated.
- Move Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories to “a permanent basis of parity” with U.S. states on nutrition, child poverty reduction, Medicaid, Medicare and tax relief programs.
- Unblock Social Security Income payments that benefit 300,000 poor and vulnerable citizens of Puerto Rico.
- Considering the island’s history of four years of balanced budgets, the letter calls for removal of the oversight of a federally installed board. “We call for a high degree of accountability and broad participation in budget development, execution and monitoring,” including creation of an “independent citizen accountability committee empowered to request, review and publicly report on budgetary information.”
“As the end of bankruptcy is lauded, we continue to call for a true Jubilee,” the letter states, “a world where we all have enough, can live in dignity, and honor the greatness of our Creator.”
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