In partnership with our friends at Jubilee USA, we are asking for prayers and calls to Congress on behalf of Puerto Rico. This Wednesday, please join tens of thousands of people across the United States and call Congress to support legislation on Puerto Rico’s economic crisis that protects the most vulnerable. The island is experiencing extreme levels of poverty, and there is legislation currently in US Congress to ease the burden so that that money can go towards critical social programs.
Puerto Rico’s poverty rate is over 40%. Sadly the children are most affected with 80% of Puerto Rico’s children live in high-poverty areas, compared to 11% on the US mainland. Puerto Rico owes $72 billion in debt, approximately $20, 000 for each citizen living on the island. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island for the US mainland each year, eroding Puerto Rico’s tax base and forcing the government to borrow money to meet its obligations.
The Governor of Puerto Rico has called the island’s debt “unpayable” and released a debt-restructuring plan. The rating agency Standard and Poor’s grades Puerto Rico’s debt at “CCC Minus, ” and there is a strong possibility the island will default.
A Unique Debt Crisis
Because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and not a sovereign nation, it is not eligible for emergency financing or low-interest loans from the International Monetary Fund. However, Puerto Rico is also not eligible for the municipal bankruptcy protection available to US cities and states. Congress is currently debating legislation (HR 870 / S. 1774, and HR 4199) to grant Puerto Rico access to municipal bankruptcy protection. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration called for broader bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico and health care and tax reforms.
Faith communities around the country are praying for the debt crisis in Puerto Rico as the US Congress considers solutions. Congress is holding hearings this week on a draft bill that seeks to resolve the emergency.
Puerto Rico’s Catholic Archbishop, Roberto Octavio González Nieves, O.F.M., asks for prayers for his people:
I invite the people of Puerto Rico and all people of faith around the world to join me and pray for the US House of Representatives as they consider action around Puerto Rico. We also must pray for Puerto Rico’s leaders and creditors to work together to find a solution to the crisis that protects the rights and dignity of all sides. Finally we pray that any solutions will ensure that the debt is brought to payable levels, without further sacrifice to our social services. We pray that any solution seeks to reduce child poverty on the island and invest in our people. We pray that solutions respect Puerto Rico’s democracy.”
Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed a bill placing a moratorium on debt to prioritize payments for social services. The US territory will likely default on a $422 million May 1 payment. Puerto Rico has cut funding for special education, health care and law enforcement to pay its debt.
“We join the Archbishop in his call to pray for Puerto Rico and Congress as the debt crisis is at a critical point, ” remarked Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network. “There can be no economic growth in Puerto Rico until the debt is brought back to sustainable levels. We pray that Congress will adopt a solution that promotes budget transparency, reduces child poverty and ensures strong provisions to restructure the debt in a manner that is timely, comprehensive and orderly.”
Friends, we encourage you to take action for our fellow American citizens. There are several ways you can participate in debt relief and the protection of the most vulnerable in Puerto Rico:
- Pray, and sign your faith community up to pray
- Sign Jubilee’s petition supporting Puerto Rico’s religious leaders’ call for Jubilee
- Call your members of Congress on Wednesday at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to support bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico
Read more on Puerto Rico’s religious leaders’ August statement on Jubilee and protection of its citizens.