The governmental response to this season's hurricane impact in the Caribbean has been a national embarrassment. Aid to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands has been inadequate, ineffective, slow and grudging. Every bit of aid has come only after massive waves of public outrage. Even then, the aid has been circumscribed by unnecessary and mean-spirited rules and restrictions.
Please co-sponsor and support the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act. This bill represents a balanced and equitable approach to helping our fellow citizens to recover from a historically massive national disaster. It also remediates some of the effects of America's colonial treatment of these areas. The bill addresses several critical areas, including the debt crisis, reconstruction of the grid and other infrastructure, parity in Medicaid and Medicare funding, recovery of the agriculture system, fair treatment of Puerto Rican veterans, educational improvement, economic development, and environmental remediation.
Please work with the existing cosponsors to address this national scandal: Senators Sanders, Blumenthal, Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, and Warren; Representatives Plaskett, Velazquez, and Soto. Stop the slow genocide of passive aggression we are seeing in Puerto Rico.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Thursday, October 5, 2017
I’m going to leave the racial aspects of this rhetoric for another day. There are no shortage of opportunities to point out the barriers our society puts in the way of black and brown people.
But let’s examine the charge of ingratitude. Whenever our country has called, Puerto Rico has willingly sacrificed the time and blood of its children at rates far out of proportion to its tiny population. Ask any veteran, and they will be able to tell you about the courage, dedication and work ethic of Puerto Rican service people. To have a charge of “ingratitude” levied by a draft dodger is doubly ironic.
And then there is the ridicule of the president for Puerto Rico’s dire economic situation. What led to the budget crisis and the debt that was the subject of his first official statement on Hurricane Maria?
As we learned in school, European colonialism sought to extract wealth from its colonies using whatever methods were necessary. Some methods were more brutal than others. But every American school child has learned to express resentment at the Stamp Act as a tool to enforce taxation without representation and celebrate the revolution that followed.
But it turns out that the US treats Puerto Rico far worse than the writers of the Stamp Act ever did. The Jones Act results in a doubling of the cost of shipping of every item that comes into Puerto Rico over water. As the president recently discovered to his apparent surprise, Puerto Rico is surrounded by water. Over time, the costs of the Jones Act to the Puerto Rican economy more than account for the total cost of the territorial debt.
Fortunately, international organizations, private citizens, and foreign governments are stepping in where the US government has dropped the ball. It is not enough, and may never be enough, but we should support those efforts.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Mother Jones has published the internal memo detailing the White House communication plan on the emergency in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The administration focus seems to be on declaring victory and walking away.
But people are dying. Remote areas have not been contacted. Please demand emergency hearings on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The people have no trust in an administration whose idea of assistance is a golf trophy. Please put the wellbeing of American citizens over partisan considerations. History will not be kind to people who collaborate in a slow genocide of passive-aggression.
Please work in a bipartisan way to re-authorize and re-fund CHIP. Nine million children depend on CHIP for health insurance. Without CHIP, children will die. This was once a policy priority that both parties could agree on. From out here, where your constituents live, the silence and lack of action on CHIP is confounding.
The current president took time away from his busy golf schedule to insult people who are literally struggling for their lives. That he and his administration sees bigoted insults as an appropriate response to a humanitarian nightmare is reprehensible.
We are witnessing a slow genocide by passive-aggression. History will not judge us kindly if we allow this to stand. Please do not use Puerto Rico as a partisan football. Now is the time to put country over party, to dig deep and do what is necessary to save and improve the lives of our fellow Americans.
Some policy suggestions:
- Give Puerto Rico a permanent exemption from the Jones Act.
- Use distributed power generation, through easily installed solar panels, as a strategy to return power to remote areas. Transmission lines would take months to replace. The people don't have months.
- Instruct the PROMESA FOMB that their earlier-negotiated agreements with creditors are not reasonable in a post-Maria world. They must be renegotiated, and Puerto Rico needs an option to exit the debt crisis. Please be creative.
- Ensure the adequate and timely distribution of humanitarian aid.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Trump Tax Plan GoalsWith great fanfare, President Trump and Congressional Republicans unveiled their new tax plan with three promises:
- The plan would not cut taxes for America’s richest households.
- The plan would slash middle class taxes.
- The plan would not increase the deficit.
Broken PromisesUnfortunately, the Trump tax plan fails on all three counts, according to the Tax Policy Center (TPC). The TPC analysis, using values from previous GOP tax proposals where the Trump proposal was unclear, showed “modestly wealthy and upper-middle-class families getting hit with tax hikes, lower-income and middle-class families provided with small tax cuts, and the very rich and big businesses benefiting far and away the most.”
Using slightly different assumptions, Lily Batchelder, a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, said "In broad brush strokes, they’re doing nothing for the bottom 35%, very little and possibly raising taxes on the middle class, and they’ve specified tax cuts for the wealthy."
And The Deficit?As for the deficit promises, those are based on the supposed accuracy of a system known as "dynamic scoring," which the GOP hopes to use to show that federal revenue remains largely unchanged after tax cuts.
The premise behind the dynamic scoring conversation was tested in recent years, when Sam Brownback and his Republican legislature put it to the test in Kansas. Brownback promised that his tax cuts would generate so much economic growth that there would not be any significant revenue loss. In practice, revenue dropped sharply, and the Kansas government was forced to institute massive cuts to popular services and engage in a huge borrowing spree.
Many of the same tax changes from the Kansas Experiment are part of Trump's plan. Congress would be well-advised to learn from the Kansas Experiment's failure. The Kansas Experiment does have its defenders, of course. Their claims have been debunked.
Who Benefits?So, who benefits from Trump's tax proposal? Despite his denials to the contrary, it appears that Trump would reap huge benefits from his plan.
Trump's estate stands to save an estimated $1.1B based on the repeal of the estate tax.
Based on a New York Times analysis of Trump's 2005 tax return (the most recent one available in the public record), Trump would have saved an estimated $43M on that year's return under the new rules.
On a more insidious note, Puerto Rico's status as a territory results in a much reduced level of support for Medicaid.
- Emigration from the island is leaving an increasingly elderly and poor population, which increases the percentage of the remaining citizens covered by Medicaid. Roughly half of the island's residents rely on Medicaid.
- The matching rate for Puerto Rico stands at 55%. For states with similar income levels (eg Mississippi), the matching rate is 76%. (Note that Puerto Rico's poverty rate in 2015 was 46%. By comparison, Mississippi, the poorest state, had a poverty rate of 22%.)
- Federal funds for matching in territories (unlike states) are capped. Since Puerto Rico is large and has a large Medicaid population, only $329M was matched in 2015, which amounted to an effective 14% matching rate.
- A bump in funding for Puerto Rico's Medicaid funding was included in the Affordable Care Act. The provision providing that funding runs out of money this year (2017). The result is that half of Puerto Rico's current Medicaid population may find themselves uninsured.
Health issues related to Hurricanes Irma and Maria are likely to increase rather than decrease health cost obligations. The PROMESA Fiscal Oversight Management Board (FOMB) is demanding a 6% reduction in health care spending. There is no way to get to that spending level aside from spending cuts that will come at a horrific human cost.
Puerto Rico would benefit from calls by Senator Sanders and others to expand Medicare eligibility to all Americans, as long as those reforms also apply to citizens living in US territories. But changes are needed now.
Calls To ActionPlease contact your Senators and Representatives to demand that:
- Puerto Rico's health care reimbursements be brought into line with the rest of the country.
- The PROMESA Fiscal Oversight Management Board (FOMB) be instructed to look for a fairer reimbursement system to close the budget gap rather than looking to program cuts.
- Any health care reform to expand Medicare coverage MUST include Puerto Rico.