November 16, 2017

Sen. Warren, Rep. Velazquez Call for Discharge of Puerto Rico's Debt

In Aftermath of Maria, Lawmakers Urge Complete Relief of Island's Crushing Debt

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) wrote the Chairman of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico urging the Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico's debt restructuring completely write off the Island's debt obligations.

"Puerto Rico was in a terrible financial squeeze even before Hurricane Maria.  Now, with the island devastated, the Oversight Board surely recognizes there is no way Puerto Rico can service its debt," said Senator Warren.  "Puerto Rico's budget should go to rebuilding the island and addressing its ongoing humanitarian crisis, not paying Wall Street vulture funds."

"The people of Puerto Rico are demonstrating remarkable spirit in the face of great hardship, but the Island's longstanding debt could hamper recovery and set the Island back by decades," said Rep. Velázquez. "Even President Trump previously suggested we ‘wipe out' Puerto Rico's debt.  While Puerto Rico was previously suffering from its financial state, the advent of Maria now means that its debt load will prevent the Island from recovering from this once in a generation humanitarian crisis.  It is morally incumbent on the Court to take these factors into account, eliminate this debt and give Puerto Rico a fresh start to rebuild. Congress allowed for this in passing PROMESA and now the Oversight Board and the Court should exercise this option."

The full text of the letter is below.

November 15, 2017

Mr. José B. Carrión
Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico
P.O. Box 192018
San Juan, PR 00919-2018

Dear Chairman Carrión:            

As Puerto Rico continues to suffer the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria, its delicate financial situation renews many longstanding questions about its capacity to shoulder its crushing debt load. We are pleased that you are setting aside the previously approved Fiscal Plan that sought to implement fiscal cuts and are working to rewrite a plan that considers the storm's damages and the resulting population flight. As you work toward the next iteration of a Fiscal Plan-which we believe should extend for longer than the five years proposed-we urge you make a request to Judge Swain to completely discharge the Commonwealth's and its instrumentalities' debt.

After over a year of delving deep into the reality of Puerto Rico's state of affairs, you are more than aware of the precarious situation the Island has been in-a position that has been dramatically worsened since Hurricane Maria. If the situation is not reversed, Puerto Rico will face the possibility of total collapse. This is not news to the Oversight Board. As Executive Director Natalie Jaresko recently testified, "Without unprecedented levels of help from the United States government, the recovery we were planning for will fail.... The hurricane-caused damage has added greatly-and will add greatly-to the financial distress of the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities." She also warned that "Puerto Rico is experiencing a massive population exodus."

We have concerns about whether Congress's response will be sufficient. In the first tranche of disaster relief money for the island, Congress approved a $4.9 billion loan to ease an imminent liquidity crisis. But offering Puerto Rico loans, not grants, on top of their already astronomical obligations, and subsequently requesting offsets for true emergency needs in Puerto Rico, is disrespectful. If assistance falls short of what the island needs, people will die, basic needs will go unmet, and Puerto Ricans who can exit the island will do so in even greater numbers, further deteriorating territory's tax base and long-term economic outlook. Irrespective of Congress's response, creditors must now finally face the reality that Puerto Rico will never be able to repay its preexisting debt, and the Oversight Board must act in accordance with that reality too.  
The Puerto Rican economy has experienced a double-digit-percentage decline in the past decade.  Poverty rates have risen steeply, with 58 percent of children living below the U.S. federal poverty line. Well over 10 percent of the population has left the island in the past decade due to the scarce economic opportunity there and now, post-Maria, that percentage could be mirrored in just two years. Already, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled to the mainland since the hurricane. Furthermore, researchers have found that Puerto Rico's capacity to repay post-Maria is hopeless.  The Hurricane's aftermath is expected to reduce economic output by 21 percent within the next 15 years. Even if Puerto Rico is able disrupt its freefall descent and ultimately recover, the question still looms: what happens to the debt?

The bottom line is that Puerto Rico is insolvent; the devastation and concomitant accelerated outmigration has deteriorated the Island's repayment capacity. Unless the debt is completely written off, the economy will be permanently destroyed. The Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) law created a framework, based on the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution, that should be immediately employed to write off all of Puerto Rico's debt.  

The Board should seize this as an opportunity to ease the burden on millions of U.S. citizens. It is only fair that after decades of succumbing to unsustainable debt agreements, the people of Puerto Rico be assured that its debt will not be a permanent overhang to economic development on the island.

With so many residents still in grave need of basic supplies, we are at a pivotal time in Puerto Rico's history. I hope that you will embrace at this time the legal path to discharge Puerto Rico's debt through PROMESA. Yes, the people of Puerto Rico are resilient, but they need help.  

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.


Nydia M. Velázquez                                       Elizabeth Warren                    
Member of Congress                                      United States Senator

Natalie Jaresko, Executive Director, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
Andrew G. Biggs, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
Carlos M. García, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
Arthur J. González, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
José R. González, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
Ana J. Matosantos, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
David A. Skeel, Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
Christian Sobrino Vega, Ex-officio Member, Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico

In the weeks since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

  • Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
  • Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
  • Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  
  • Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
  • Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
  • Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.