Puerto Rico needs a Marshall Plan

Puerto Rico needs a Marshall Plan
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After World War II, the United States rebuilt western Europe from the ashes. Under the Marshall Plan, our country provided billions of dollars in aid to Germany and 15 other nations, sparking an unprecedented economic boom, reviving infrastructure that was in shambles and building a foundation for sustained prosperity that Europeans enjoy to this day.

Puerto Rico needs and deserves a Marshall Plan of its own. It’s time for Congress and the White House to commit to a long-term recovery and rebuilding strategy following the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Maria. If our leaders believe we can afford giant tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, then we can certainly afford to restore a normal life for the 3.5 million American citizens who call Puerto Rico home.

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What we did for Europe we can and should do for our own people. World War II was a human-caused disaster, while Maria was a natural calamity, but the effects are strikingly similar with wrecked economies, ruined infrastructure, widespread suffering and little chance for relief unless our government acts decisively. As it is, Puerto Ricans feel abandoned by their federal government in their hour of greatest need. After Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and Hurricane Irma rammed into Florida, the Trump administration acted quickly. In contrast, the White House and Congress dawdled and dithered for more than a week after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico.

The devastation caused by Maria’s brute-force winds and torrential rains is unprecedented. Roads are impassable. Bridges are broken. Many schools are piles of rubble. Rescue crews can’t reach many parts of the island, leaving people marooned. Water service is out across most of Puerto Rico. Hospitals are struggling to serve patients using generators. The power grid is annihilated. There’s no cell or internet service in vast portions of the commonwealth.

Puerto Ricans desperately need Washington to help their government resume operations and provide services that are critical for the population’s continued health, welfare, safety and security. A comprehensive federal aid package should provide long-term funding to revive public health services, improve public education, increase fire and police protection, beef up corrections staffing, restore basic sanitation, provide services to the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and rebuild infrastructure, including electricity and other utilities. To complete these ambitious projects, we must invest in new and existing jobs, which pay a living wage and will strengthen the economy of the commonwealth.

On top of dealing with the hurricane’s aftermath, Puerto Rico remains plagued by long-standing financial structural problems and a vicious downward economic cycle. The lack of adequate food, water, medical supplies and infrastructure will only exacerbate these problems, making it even more urgent for Congress and the White House to act on a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico without delay. The aid package should be designed solely to restore services and help revitalize the economy, not to provide a bailout for Puerto Rico’s creditors.

Our leaders brought Europe back from near-death status with spectacular results. I call on Congress and the White House to muster the will to do the same for Puerto Rico. With this help, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico can rebuild their communities and emerge from Hurricane Maria’s wreckage stronger, hardier and more prosperous.

Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a labor union of more than 1.6 million workers.