What can candidates for president do for Puerto Rico?

Andy Uhler Sep 4, 2015
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What can candidates for president do for Puerto Rico?

Andy Uhler Sep 4, 2015
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Puerto Rico has more debt than any state besides California and New York, and officials say the government can’t pay it. But Puerto Rico isn’t a state. It’s a territory. Much like the European Union is figuring out how to help Greece, the question is, what can the United States do to help Puerto Rico? 

This could be an opportunity for presidential candidates to win some votes. At least that’s what Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are thinking. Both are campaigning on the island Friday. Clinton says she’s there to talk about healthcare. Nearly half of the island’s residents are enrolled in Medicaid, but Puerto Rico has been borrowing to pay for that.

Rafael Cox Alomar, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said time is running out.

“You’re going to end up with 1.4 million beneficiaries of this system with no access to healthcare,” he says.

Many Puerto Ricans have family on the mainland in places like Florida and New York — states that hold a lot of weight come primary season. Alomar says Puerto Ricans are used to these visits. 

“Politicians come and go,” he says, “and obviously it’s one thing to promise and it’s another to deliver.”

Vicente Feliciano, president of Advantage Business Consulting, says Marco Rubio is going to talk about the possibility of statehood.

“Each one is targeting a different audience,” he says. “In the case of Rubio, the main thing is the possibility of a status referendum. And that most definitely resonates within the local Republican community.”

Official statehood would give the territory more options to restructure its debt. Agencies could file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy – like Detroit did two years ago. As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico can’t. But whether Puerto Rico becomes a state doesn’t really matter to residents like Marita Teissonniere. She has two graduate degrees, and has been unemployed for three years.

“It is very frustrating for us, because we have an education,” she says. “We just look for another option, but we don’t have them.” 

Teissonniere says a lot of her friends are in the same boat. But she’s not waiting around to see what happens. Right now she’s looking for financing to start her own business making candles.

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