GAO report: Another step toward statehood for Puerto Rico

It has been a long road, but it’s now just a matter of days --April 3 to be precise -- before Congress finally releases the much anticipated report made on the cost of Puerto Rico becoming the nation’s 51st state. The report was developed by the General Accounting Office.

The information contains, among other things, the impact of statehood on the federal Treasury, including the full complement disbursement of almost 90 percent of all federal programs to the people of our island. Among them are likely enrollment levels in Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

It is this report that has the enemies of statehood for Puerto Rico, a United States territory since 1898, scared.

Although this would not be the first report from the GAO on Puerto Rico -- a 1981 report gathered and organized economic information, but explicitly refused to speculate on the fiscal effects of the various status options -- the expectations are that this one will be in such detail that it will give the plight of almost 3.6 American citizens residing on the island a boost in their hopes of achieving equality.

In 2009, several newspaper reports claimed that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report dated July, 2009 placed a $9.4 billion price tag on Puerto Rico statehood.

The New York Times estimated the cost around $9.3 billion in an editorial back in 1990, apparently referring to a CBO report from April of 1990 which was explicitly limited to two considerations: (1) the reductions in the supply side of the economy stemming from a loss of Section 936 capital, and (2) changes in aggregate demand.  Section 936, a federal tax policy that provided incentives for U.S.-based companies to move to Puerto Rico, has since been repealed.

Estimates on costs have shifted through the years, but that’s not the real situation.

The issue of statehood for Puerto Rico is not economic; it’s a civil rights matter. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and have the right to equality.

As for the cost of statehood, it is worth remembering that because of our current territorial status, the island does not have the tools to fully develop its economy.

One brief look at Puerto Rico’s economic situation -- high unemployment rate of 14.7, the exodus in just one year of more than 26,000 people from our labor market, and now the real threat of thousands of people losing millions of dollars in savings due to the devaluation of our credit rating -- confirms that fact.

The House Natural Resources Committee has had the report since March 4 and hasn’t released it. The committee has until April 2, before the  GAO releases the information contained in it on the next day.

In recent weeks, several mid-level officials have started making remarks that could be viewed as against the desire of the people of Puerto Rico to become a full member of the nation.  We are encouraged that the GAO report will change those misconceived views.

It’s time to move forward and the GAO report is another step in Puerto Rico’s path to statehood.

Aponte-Hernandez is a former speaker and current member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.