There has been a great outpouring of support for Puerto Rico from individuals across the nation. The federal government has also been providing support, including a waiver of the co-pay requirement for disaster relief and the presence of thousands of members of the armed forces with tools and capabilities that make it possible to reach people in the areas that suffered the most damage from Hurricane Maria.
But there have also been a lot of discussions in social media, including the comments here at PR51st, about whether or not the United States should be supporting Puerto Rico.
People who know Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens are twice as likely to support disaster aid.
In a recent Morning Consult survey, 81% of people who knew that people born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the U.S. supported aid to Puerto Rico. That’s about the same level of support as American’s had for aid after Hurricane Katrina.
Only 44% of people who didn’t know this supported the aid. Those people thought that disaster aid to Puerto Rico was foreign aid, not help for U.S. citizens.
Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. The federal government is responsible for Puerto Rico, and the other U.S. territories, just as much as for states. No other country has responsibility for Puerto Rico.
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Do taxes matter?
Puerto Rico pays taxes to the United States. The territory has such a high level of poverty that most residents would not pay any income tax if Puerto Rico were a state right now — just like half of the citizens living in the states.
Once Puerto Rico is a state and gains prosperity as territories do when they become states, Puerto Rico will be able to provide more tax funds to the United States. Right now, we’re seeing comments like, “If you want help, then you should become a state and pay taxes!”
This seems like an inhuman response to people who have lost their homes, are doing without water, electricity, and medical care, not to mention food and safe shelter. Nonetheless, it’s worth examining because this attitude may affect the attitudes in Congress, where decisions about Puerto Rico are made.
First, Puerto Rico voted for statehood in 2012 and 2017. The voters of Puerto Rico want statehood with its rights and responsibilities. If Puerto Rico does not have the opportunity to pay federal income taxes, that is the responsibility of Congress, not of Puerto Rico.
Second, about half of U.S. citizens do not pay any income taxes. When payroll and other federal taxes are factored in, as we do when we write about taxes in Puerto Rico, most Americans pay taxes. When you look only at federal income tax, just over half do so. The poverty rate in Puerto Rico is higher than in any state, so the number of people in Puerto Rico who would owe any income taxes is smaller than in states.
We don’t see people in social media suggesting that disaster relief for Florida and Texas should be cut in half because many people in those states don’t owe any income tax.
Puerto Rico’s workers can’t pay income tax now because of laws made by the federal government. Suggesting that this is a good reason to allow people in intensive care units to die because they have no fuel for their generators is unreasonable.
Puerto Rico needs help
The leadership in Puerto Rico has expressed gratitude for the help the Island is receiving, and continues to respond directly to the needs of Puerto Rico’s residents.
Funds are needed. Puerto Rico’s government expects to run out of money this month, and there are still many people in danger. Please let your representatives know that there must be a response to the destruction.