It’s easy, when we get much of our news from the Internet, to see mostly news that agrees with our own point of view. In our social media, though, we see many comments from people who clearly do not understand the importance of equality through statehood for Puerto Rico.

One of the surprising claims we see there is that Puerto Rico doesn’t need statehood because people in Puerto Rico get everything for free. Free healthcare, free homes with no property tax, you name it, someone believes that Puerto Rico supplies it to residents for free.

Actually, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is comparable to the cost of living in many states. The income level is lower, but the prices are about the same, and sometimes even higher.

Along with this idea, we also see claims that “We give Puerto Rico millions of dollars!” or “They don’t want statehood, because they would lose all the millions we give them!” This usually seems to be a claim that the United States government gives lots of money to Puerto Rico. The commenters in these cases seem to be fellow U.S. citizens living in states which get millions of dollars from the federal government, just as Puerto Rico does.

Puerto Rico gets less than the states

It’s important, when looking at these arguments, to keep the facts in mind. Puerto Rico would still deserve the equality statehood will bring even if it were true that the federal government is super generous with the Island.

However, it isn’t. Puerto Rico receives significantly less from the government than states with similar populations. If Puerto Rico were a state, the U.S. Constitution would require Congress to treat Puerto Rico just like the other states, and Puerto Rico would receive billions more in federal funding.

This is one of the benefits of statehood. It is true for Puerto Rico just as it was for every territory that has already become a state.

Who gets the most from the federal government?

There are multiple ways to calculate how much each state or territory receives from the federal government. We’re looking at the simplest way to figure it: by the number of dollars given. For food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, schools, roads, and all the other benefits the federal government provides for states, Puerto Rico receives less than states do.

You can also count how much a state receives for every dollar it pays in taxes. So, Idaho, with about the same population as Puerto Rico, receives $1.69 for every dollar paid in. We have not found this number for Puerto Rico, but we did find rankings from 2010. At that time, Idaho was #17 in net federal expenditures per capita — that is, the amount paid by the federal government to the state, less the amount paid in by the state in taxes. Puerto Rico was #19. Not only Idaho, but 16 other states received more federal money compared with the amount they paid in taxes.

Idaho gets 26.94% of its revenue from the federal government. That’s another metric you can use. Puerto Rico gets 43% of its revenue from federal funds — much more than Idaho. But wait a minute — several states get a higher percentage than Puerto Rico, including Louisiana at 48.7% and Montana at 47.5%. Mississippi also gets a higher percentage of its revenue from federal funds that Puerto Rico does. New Mexico, Wyoming, Alaska, and Arizona all get over 42%.

The answer, then, is no. Puerto Rico does not get particularly high amounts of funding from the U.S. government.

Is “give” the right word?

In these discussions, we nearly always see claims that “we” — meaning the federal government — “give” things to Puerto Rico. But is “give” the right word?

Gibrán Cruz-Martínez makes the point that the funds provided to Puerto Rico by the federal government are not primarily gifts. “Puerto Rico received 17 billion dollars in US federal transfers,” he wrote. “However, we need to distinguish contributory benefits (i.e., benefits received as a result of tax payment or service  provided) and granted benefits (i.e., benefits transferred without contributions or service). Almost 80% of US federal transfers to Puerto Rico in 2014 were contributory benefits, which residents of Puerto Rico receive after contributing and meeting the eligibility requirements (i.e., social security, Medicare, military pensions, among others). Residents in Puerto Rico contributed to these programs.”

Gibrán Cruz-Martínez suggested that Puerto Rico would be entitled to continue receiving these benefits under independence. However, when the Philippines became independent, they lost all the benefits they had contributed to as residents of a U.S. territory, including veterans’ benefits for the many people from the Philippines who fought in the U.S. Army during World War II.

As a state, Puerto Rico would continue to receive those benefits, and would also continue to contribute to them.

Like all the other territories which have become states, Puerto Rico would also be more prosperous as a state, and would probably contribute more to the federal government. This was certainly true of Alaska and Hawaii, the most recently admitted states in the Union.

Get the facts

The more you know, the more likely you are to support statehood. Research has shown that people with more information are more likely to favor statehood in polls. This is because the facts are on the side of statehood. Get on the right side of history, and help to educate your friends and family as well as your representatives in Congress. Knowledge is power.



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