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Bill Filed to Help Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

Photo Credit: Pablo Ros
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Members of Congress led by Sen. Bernie Sanders today unveiled a plan to help Puerto Rico deal with its debt burden and recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Ten weeks after the hurricane made landfall, millions of American citizens who live on the island are still without electricity and other basic necessities. More than 12,000 public service workers and retirees in Puerto Rico are members of Servidores Públicos Unidos/AFSCME Council 95 and its retiree chapter. Through our union’s Fallen Heroes Fund, AFSCME members throughout the country have generously reached into their own pockets to provide help to residents of the island.

Moreover, AFSCME has criticized the White House’s and Congress’ response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, and AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders has called for a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico.

The bill introduced today hopes to improve Washington’s response to the crisis and make the plight of Puerto Ricans and residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands a priority.

“More than two months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, half of the people there—American citizens all—still have no electricity,” Sanders said at a press conference. “Many are struggling to get clean drinking water, and more than 100,000 people have left Puerto Rico alone. This is not acceptable, and we are here today to tell the people of Puerto Rico and tell the people of the Virgin Islands that they are not forgotten, they are not alone, and that we intend to do everything possible to rebuild those beautiful islands.”

Named “The Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2017,” the bill introduced today is co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), and is supported by Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez of New York and Rep. Darren Soto of Florida, among others.

This proposal, which seeks a total of $146 billion to support the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, would allocate $62 billion to help them address their fiscal challenges, as well as $27 billion for infrastructure projects and $51 billion for economic development.

At a time when Senate leaders are rushing a vote on a tax plan that would hugely benefit corporations and the rich at the expense of working families, the bill introduced today highlights even further their skewed priorities. Instead of offering tax giveaways to corporations and the super wealthy, Congressional leaders should be scrambling to help American citizens whose lives continue to be disrupted and who lack even the basic necessities of life.

AFSCME supports this legislation and encourages further efforts to provide relief to residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.