A just recovery must be in the hands of the people of Puerto Rico, led by the people, and for the people of Puerto Rico.
HUMAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Rebuilding should not be an excuse for exploitation or for waiving any civil, human, or environmental rights in the name of speed – or greed.
Our federal government has a moral and legal responsibility to help Puerto Rico recover. The only way the island can do so is if our federal government enacts a “Marshall Plan” and systematically invests tens of billions of dollars to rebuild, revitalize and revive Puerto Rico’s health care system, economy, public social services and infrastructure, including its energy grid, utilities, and telecommunications system.
FORGIVING PUERTO RICO’S DEBT
Because of severe federal underfunding of Puerto Rico’s healthcare system and laws like the Jones Act, Puerto Rico has faced undue economic burdens for generations. Today, it holds a $73 billion debt that, without relief, will make it impossible to rebuild the island’s roads, bridges, and power structure effectively. Our federal government must either cover the debt, or pressure creditors to write it off. In the meantime, we must ensure that no funds provided for disaster assistance and rebuilding are used to repay creditors.
Our concerns also extend to Puerto Ricans who have been forced to evacuate the island to the U.S. mainland because of lack of habitation, food, water, and employment. They are disaster victims and need support and relief from our national and local governments, along with much-needed assistance from private and nonprofit philanthropic sources.
REBUILD A STRONGER, SAFER, MORE SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE
The rebuilding of Puerto Rico must focus on forward-thinking solutions, including renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and ocean wave energy. We cannot prevent storms like Maria from occurring, but we can and must build a more reliable, durable infrastructure to ease recovery in the future.
REBUILD SMART – USE DISASTER FUNDING TO LAY THE GROUNDWORK FOR A RENEWABLE ELECTRIC GRID
The widespread destruction of the grid has created an obligation to rebuild Puerto Rico in a more resilient, decentralized way based on local renewable energy.
As houses are rebuilt and businesses re-open, the federal government should also work with Puerto Rico’s government and community leadership to develop re-entry and repopulation plans for evacuees informed by the lessons learned from the post-Katrina process. To recover long-term, Puerto Rico needs to retain and rebuild its workforce.
MANUFACTURING AND AGRICULTURAL SECTORS
There should be every effort made to support retention of current manufacturing jobs (in addition to agricultural sector assistance) so that Puerto Ricans can rebuild their economy as quickly as possible.
STRENGTHEN FARMS AND NUTRITION
Puerto Rico had a growing agricultural sector that boasted over 7,000 jobs. Still, the island imported 85% of its food. Hurricane Maria destroyed 80% of crops in Puerto Rico, which will take years to regrow. Promoting local food production and access to clean water through Community Food Project and Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program Grants is essential as communities in Puerto Rico recover. Funding for nutrition programs is also needed to ensure access to food.
ADDRESS MEDICAID AND MEDICARE PARITY
Puerto Rico is facing a dire health care crisis. Inequities in federal health care funding are a major driver of this crisis. Approximately 60% of the island’s population is enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare, both of which face a tenuous future due in part to an archaic and unfair capping of federal contributions imposed upon Puerto Rico, because of its status as a territory. To ensure the health of our people in Puerto Rico, it is essential that we eliminate federal funding health care disparities and make large-scale investments to revitalize the infrastructure and operations in hospitals and community-health centers, and retain medical professionals on the island.
For nearly a hundred years now, the U.S. Jones Act has mandated that every car, food item or other product that enters or leaves Puerto Rico be carried on a more expensive U.S.- flagged vessel. If a foreign-flagged ship enters the island, high taxes and customs fees essentially double the price of transported goods. This law, which the World Trade Organization has deemed to be the most restrictive transport law in the world, has cost the people of Puerto Rico billions of dollars in additional shipping costs over many decades. It must end.
REBUILDING SHOULD NOT PENALIZE HISTORIC OR POOR COMMUNITIES MAKING WAY FOR GENTRIFICATION
Rebuilding efforts, especially housing, should take into account what communities want and get their input rather than simply displace them for the sake of ‘economic development.’
We demand that all efforts be made to assess and provide an accurate count of deaths as a result of Maria and its aftermath. As long as those numbers remain underreported, the impact of the devastation will not be fully known and will be downplayed by some who wish to limit the level of relief and recovery support provided to Puerto Rico and its people.