The responsibility to act

Congress is about to tackle, once again, the pressing issue of the political and fiscal situation of the United States Territory of Puerto Rico, during the next few weeks. There will be hearing by several high ranking committees, including the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which oversees American energy production and mining on federal lands. This important subcommittee will hear information from the Puerto Rico Power Authority, particularly, its fragile financial situacion.

The above-mentioned audience will mark the eight time in the last 24 months that Congress have taken on the matter of the Island. But despite the attention, no concrete action have been forthcoming.

The American citizens who live in Puerto Rico can’t take it anymore. In fact, more and more of them are leaving the Island, in record numbers, to find a better quality of life in the states. For example, in 2014, some 83,010 migrated to the continental U.S., a then historic mark. Although the figures for 2015 are not yet completed, as of July the number stood at 71,297. It’s easy to project that when the data is completed, that number will easy surpass the 90,000 mark.

The massive debt accumulated by the current commonwealth political status, more than $73,000 million, is one of the leading forces behind this historic migration to the states.

We need the Congress to step up and solve, once and for all, this matter. We need this Congress to act on the will of the people of the Island who voted in 2012 in favor of statehood for the territory.

The political limbo in which we live have caused an economic stagnation not seen since in a US jurisdiction since the nineteenth century.

The lack of tools to improve the fiscal situation, steaming from the colonial nature of our political relationship with the U.S., have resulted in a near meltdown unprecedented in America.

The economic data confirms it.

For the first time in the history of the Territory, a government have defaulted in its payment obligations, which have led to chaos in the local markets. Holiday sales, the backbone of a consumer-based economy such as ours, were down up to 30 percent amid a worsening economic crisis, accordingly to Puerto Rico’s United Retailers Association.

Current data also shows that due to the prolong recession, people are not buying houses. In fact, there was a sharp 30.5 percent drop in the number of new mortgages generated in the third quarter of 2015. That figure contrast dramatically to the one seen in the rest of the Nation where housing value jumped 2.5 percent in 2015.

Congress and its new leadership, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump's biggest worry isn't rigged elections, it's the GOP establishment Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Budowsky: Paul Ryan must address his Trump problem MORE (R-Wis.), need to take responsibility for the dire situation that almost 3.5 million of American citizens are in. There are simply no magic solutions to solve the matter, there’s only one road to take: equality.

The responsibility for the stagnation and bleak economic outlook now facing the American citizens living in Puerto Rico is shared between the local government and the Congress.

Congress has the responsibility to give the Island the tools to move forward. To jumpstart our economy and to steam the massive and historic migration wave that, if left uncheck, will thwart any efforts to restore our economy.

The most important piece of legislation pending in Congress is the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act (HR 727), a bipartisan bill, filed by our Resident Commisioner, Pedro Pierluisi, which will result in the Island becoming a state on January 1, 2021 once a majority of the electorate in Puerto Rico votes in favor of admission in a federally-sponsored vote.

The bill is in direct response to a November 2012 referendum in Puerto Rico, sponsored by the local government, and in which voters soundly rejected territory status and expressed a clear preference for statehood. 

For the past few years we have called for Congress to act and nothing tangible have occurred. This needs to change. This has to be the year that, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, act to bring a lifeline to Puerto Rico. This needs to be the year that Congress will grant the Island a path towards statehood, anything less will be unacceptable.

Aponte-Hernández was speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives from 2005 to 2009.