“Right now in Puerto Rico, the government is struggling with an unsustainable amount of debt. Rather than restructuring that debt in a way that protects the people of Puerto Rico, a small group of hedge fund billionaires are demanding extreme austerity policies that would decimate public services, including the firing of teachers and the closing of schools. It is unacceptable that these Wall Street investors will reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the Puerto Rican people. These creditors must be forced to negotiate a debt repayment plan that is fair to both sides – the people of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less.”— Bernie Sanders
Bernie is committed to addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the Puerto Rican people, and has engaged with many community, political and civic leaders both on the island and the continental U.S. These conversations have given him an understanding of what the people of Puerto Rico need and how to address the economic crisis in a manner that is both effective and responsive to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico. Bernie’s plan for Puerto Rico would build on his broader agenda for America, and focus on strengthening middle and working class Puerto Rican families.
Resolving the Debt Crisis
“When people are suffering and hurting, you don’t continue to squeeze them. We cannot allow Puerto Rico’s budget to be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable people – working families, veterans, the elderly, children and the poor. It is not only morally wrong, it is also economically unsustainable.” — Bernie Sanders
Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and harsh austerity measures are making a very difficult economic situation even worse. Today, more than 45 percent of the Puerto Rican people are living in poverty, and the childhood poverty rate is a staggering 56 percent. Meanwhile, the official unemployment is more than 12.5% — more than twice the national average – and real unemployment is much higher still. It is no wonder that an estimated 84,000 thousand people fled the island last year, and more than 1,000 are moving to Florida every week. The crisis is not only causing suffering and despair for Puerto Ricans living on the island, but is impacting their families on the U.S. mainland. This situation will spiral even further out of control if no adequate plan of action is implemented.
Bernie is fighting for economic justice for Puerto Rico:
- At an October, 2015 Senate Energy Committee hearing, Bernie challenged Puerto Rican government leaders and U.S. Treasury Department officials to implement common sense solutions to help solve Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. For instance, he urged the officials to transition away from expensive imported oil and toward clean and locally-produced electricity sources. Bernie also noted that Wall Street “vulture funds” knew they were making risky investments in Puerto Rico’s debt that could only be repaid by exacerbating the misery of the Puerto Rican people – and that it is only fair that they take “a pretty significant haircut” on their investments.
- Shortly after, Bernie sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew urging the Obama Administration to convene a meeting with Puerto Rican leaders, its creditors, labor unions, business leaders, and pension advocates to work out a debt repayment plan that is fair to all sides.
Bernie understands that Puerto Rico’s unsustainable debt has everything to do with the policies of austerity and the greed of large financial institutions. Bernie will fight to ensure that Puerto Rico is able to rebuild its economy, create good-paying jobs and expand its tax base by:
- Fighting to give Puerto Rico the same Chapter 9 bankruptcy protections that exist for municipalities in the United States. Puerto Rico should be able to restructure its debt in a rational and organized way that protects its people without harming ordinary investors and pension funds in the United States.
- Auditing Puerto Rico’s debt to investigate whether it was incurred legally. If any debt was issued to creditors in violation of Puerto Rico’s Constitution, it must be immediately set aside.
- Reversing austerity measures that have harmed children, senior citizens, and the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico.
- Creating new jobs and making Puerto Rican businesses more competitive in the global economy by enacting a national jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Bernie’s Rebuild America Act would create more than 150,000 good-paying jobs in Puerto Rico and put 13 million people to work all over the U.S. This plan would help rebuild Puerto Rico’s crumbling roads and bridges, improve its ports, upgrade its drinking water and wastewater plants, and fortify flood control projects. It would also improve public transportation within cities like San Juan, Ponce, Bayamon, and Carolina, modernize Puerto Rico’s aging electric grid and expand high-speed broadband networks all across the island.
Empowering the People of Puerto Rico to Decide Their Own Destiny
There must be a U.S. congressionally-sanctioned and binding referendum where the Puerto Rican people would be able to decide on whether to become a state, an independent country, or to reform the current Commonwealth agreement. This is an issue that should be decided by the Puerto Rican people.
Clean Energy and Environment
Bernie believes we must move aggressively away from fossil fuels toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy production. Puerto Rico is blessed with abundant solar and wind resources, and has great potential to expand biomass and geothermal energy. The island also is well-positioned to develop cutting edge marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy, as well as oceanic thermal energy. Yet, 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy mix currently comes from imported oil that is extraordinarily expensive for the Puerto Rican people and awful for the environment.
Bernie has introduced several bills that would help Puerto Rico transition to a clean energy future. He would expand and make permanent tax incentives for renewable energy, and his climate plan would tax carbon and use the revenue to make significant investments in wind, solar, and geothermal energy. His Rebuild America Act will help modernize the island’s antiquated electric grid to end rolling blackouts and make it easier to integrate new solar and wind installations. Updating Puerto Rico’s energy system is also critically important in terms of addressing the island’s debt crisis, since the single largest debt – more than $9 billion – is owed by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Bernie’s Climate Protection and Justice Act calls for an end to toxic pollution from incinerators by closing loopholes that treat trash as a “fuel” instead of “solid waste.” This is of particular importance in regards to the proposed construction of a 2,100-ton-per-day municipal solid waste incinerator in the north coast municipality of Arecibo.
Bernie would also make sure federal environmental and public health laws are enforced. The Martin Peña Canal in downtown San Juan is severely polluted, with a fecal content 60 times greater than the EPA water-quality standard. The pollution has caused a tremendous amount of disease and distress in the heavily populated area – with between 26,000 and 30,000 residents affected by the urban waterway in an area where most of San Juan’s labor force resides.
We must call attention to the pressing needs in Vieques, including environmental clean-up, raising the quality of life and health on the island, and improving socioeconomic development. The alarming rates of cancer and other serious health conditions on Vieques – very possibly linked to the now closed U.S. Naval bombing range – must be addressed and the environmental damage caused by the range fully remediated. As one of the poorest municipalities in Puerto Rico, Vieques must have access to the same economic development opportunities as the rest of Puerto Rico.
It is counter-productive to the best interests of our country and our future that Puerto Rico’s bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that so many who do pursue higher education leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That shortsighted path to the future must end.
Bernie Sanders will fight to make sure that every American who studies hard in school can go to college without going deeply into debt, regardless of how much money their parents make.
Bernie has long fought for access to affordable higher education by:
- Expanding Pell Grants to make college more affordable.
- Fighting for funding for low-income and first-generation students through the federal TRIO programs.
- Combating sexual violence on campus by co-sponsoring the Campus Accountability and Safety Act.
- Fighting to create the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to forgive federal student loan debt after at least ten years of public service.
Bernie’s College-for-All plan would:
- Make public colleges and universities tuition free.
- Cut new student loan interest rates almost in half.
- Allow students with existing student loan debt to refinance their loans at lower rates.
- Triple funding for the work study program to provide income and experience for college students.
Bernie believes that health care is a right, not a privilege. He will fight for a single payer, Medicare-for-all plan which would cover everyone and apply equally to states and territories, including Puerto Rico.