House Introduces New Bill to Address Puerto Rican Debt Crisis

By Kenrya Rankin May 19, 2016

The Republican-controlled House just introduced a bill aimed at addressing the Puerto Rican debt crisis. The commonwealth is $72 billion in debt, and public services like schools and hospitals are being forced to close their doors. Many people—including Puerto Rico governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders—have criticized Congress for not creating a plan to restructure the debt.

The Huffington Post reports that just before midnight yesterday (May 18), members released details of new legislation that they say will mitigate the impact of the #PuertoRicoCrisis. If H.R.5278—the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA—passes, it will create an oversight board that would be tasked with guiding PR’s government through the restructuring. Notably, the bill strengthens the board’s authority beyond what was granted in previous, failed attempts at legislation. Per The Huffington Post:

The bill boosts the board’s power to force the sale of government assets and consolidate agencies and workforce. The revisions also use stronger language to affirm that the legislation “holds supremacy” over any law in the commonwealth. The board has greater leeway to hold hearings, issue subpoenas and impose criminal penalties when seeking information on financial statements from the government at all levels.

In addition, the pending legislation leaves out a controversial provision that transferred 3,100 acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the Puerto Rican government. Both environmental activists and the administration worried that the leadership would open the land to private government to improve solvency.

In a move that many House Democrats feel runs counter to assisting Puerto Rican residents, the bill also locks in a $7.25 minimum wage for up to five years and exempts the commonwealth from the administration’s new overtime rule—which mandates time-and-a-half overtime pay for salaried workers with annual incomes below $47,476.

But the leadership optimistic about the bill’s prospects. “While we would have preferred for the bill not to include extraneous minimum wage and overtime rule provisions that harm working families, these provisions are less harmful than originally proposed,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

If the bill isn’t signed into law by July 1, Puerto Rico is set to default on a $2 billion debt payment.