Sen. Sanders presents legislation to ‘rebuild’ Puerto Rico, USVI
SAN JUAN – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and five other senators introduced Tuesday what they called a plan to address “the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive,” according to a release from his office.
The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act would instruct the federal government to address the issues affecting the island in the aftermath of two major hurricanes by “mobilizing all necessary resources and assets to restore power, provide clean drinking water and food, safe shelter and access to health care. And, it would do so without forcing the territories to take on more debt.”
According to the release, the legislation emphasizes “local control and sustainable rebuilding” and instructs Congress to address Puerto Rico’s debt – “a major impediment to a just and full recovery.” And, it “ensures that any federal disaster funding provided to the islands is protected from Wall Street vulture funds and acted upon with local input and local workers.”
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“It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation in the world we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long. The full resources of the United States must be brought to bear on this crisis, for as long as is necessary,” adds Sanders, who visited Puerto Rico in October. “But we cannot simply rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the way they were. We must go forward to create a strong, sustainable economy and energy system in both territories and address inequities in federal law that have allowed the territories to fall behind in almost every measurable social and economic criteria.”
The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Reps. Stacy Plaskett (D-V.I.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.) are expected to introduce a companion bill in the House. The bill is endorsed by 75 organizations.
The following are the components addressed in the bill, as published on Sanders’ Senate website:
1) Debt and Privatization: Puerto Rico’s debt must be addressed to ensure the territory can recover with dignity. Congress must also prevent the privatization of public institutions to benefit creditors in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is struggling with an unsustainable $74.8 billion of debt, much of which is held by Wall Street creditors, with an additional $49 billion in unpaid pension obligations. The territories’ recovery should not add to existing debt.
2) Resilient and Renewable Energy: Instead of simply rebuilding an antiquated, centralized and inefficient system dependent on imported fossil fuels, the bill ensures the electric grids will be rebuilt to be more renewable and resilient, to provide less expensive electricity and create local jobs.
3) Medicaid and Medicare Parity: The health care systems in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were inadequate before the hurricanes made landfall, in large part because they receive far fewer federal dollars compared to states. The bill makes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands eligible for the same Medicare and Medicaid benefits as the rest of America.
4) Rebuild and Improve the VA Hospital and Clinics: Appropriates necessary funds to the VA for veterans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
5) Improve Public Schools, Colleges, and Childcare Facilities: In addition to rebuilding damaged schools and childcare facilities, we must face the fact that many of these facilities were inadequate before the storms hit. Hundreds of public schools in Puerto Rico have been closed because of austerity policies and schools in the Virgin Islands are struggling to prepare students for college and future careers. The bill appropriates necessary funds for services and facilities for public Head Start, elementary, secondary and higher education.
6) Invest in Infrastructure and Spur Economic Development: Underfunded infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands contributed to the severity of the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition to rebuilding damaged facilities, the legislation would make significant investments in the islands’ physical infrastructure to spur the local economy and create jobs.
7) Environmental Cleanup: Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have significant environmental contamination related to the hurricanes, prior pollution and a legacy of military bombing exercises on Vieques. The legislation would provide grants to the EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense for environmental remediation.
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