Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, said to reporters that it’s not time to propose statehood to Congress “under Puerto Rico’s current situation.” He’s not the first to suggest that Puerto Rico’s status should be put on hold while the economy gets cleaned up.
This is like telling an unemployed person, “Hold on, let’s get your finances in order, and then we can talk about a job.”
Here are three reasons that Puerto Rico’s status should be discussed right now:
- Most of the expert recommendations for Puerto Rico’s economy would be automatic with statehood. Hatch’s task force is recommending that the EITC and Child Tax Credit be extended to Puerto Rico. They want to see Puerto Rico have equal coverage with the states in Medicaid and Medicare. Experts at the recent PROMESA oversight board meeting said that the problem with current economic growth plans boil down to the fact that they treat Puerto Rico as if it were a country, when really it’s a region in the greater U.S. economy. Experts are calling for investments in infrastructure, the end of Puerto Rico’s byzantine business permits system, and cheaper energy costs. All these things would come with statehood.
- “Special” recommendations for Puerto Rico will make things worse. Some experts are calling for a lower minimum wage in Puerto Rico. This wouldn’t happen if Puerto Rico were a state. But Puerto Rico is not a country. Workforce participation is already low in Puerto Rico and the cost of living is not significantly lower than in the states. A lower minimum wage would keep even more people in the “informal” economy and send even more people to states where they can earn more and have a better chance of rising out of poverty. People from Puerto Rico can travel to a state without a passport and take a job immediately; we don’t have to accept a lower wage.
- It’s a human rights issue. Financial experts like Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley are being honest when they say that times are going to be tough in Puerto Rico for a while. But the U.S. federal government doesn’t let states go through tough times like those. Congress is allowed to treat a territory differently from a state. The people of a territory, under U.S. law, do not have the same rights as citizens who live in states. When Puerto Rico is a state, Congress will not have the option of ignoring the hardships they face.
It’s time to talk about statehood. Tell your legislators that you want them to take part in that conversation. Now.