Over the next weeks, Congress will make critical decisions impacting 3.5 million American citizens -- the people of Puerto Rico.
Mired in more than $70 billion in debt, Puerto Rico is cutting education, health care and law enforcement funding to pay its creditors. According to the religious development coalition Jubilee USA, nearly 60% of Puerto Rico's children live in poverty and 80% live in "high-poverty areas," compared to just 11% on the US mainland. The only children's hospital on the island cut its budget 14%. The debt is simply not payable but without Congressional intervention, Puerto Rico is stuck in no-man's land - unable to access bankruptcy protection because it isn't a state and unable to get emergency loans from the IMF or World Bank because it isn't a country.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus declares He has come to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, a reference to the Jubilee of the Hebrew Scriptures, a fifty-year cycle of debt forgiveness and liberation. In the Jubilee we see the Good News proclaimed in our economy, that God endowed us with a world of plenty to share with all of His children. Puerto Rico's crisis cries out for Jubilee. For solutions that lift up vulnerable families and children, that create holistic answers to problems rather than band-aids that will need to be re-applied every few years. The need for a Jubilee for Puerto Rico is dire.
Nine Puerto Ricans leave the island every hour in search of a better life on the U.S. mainland. And one doctor leaves every day. They come to Florida, New York and Illinois, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. They leave behind brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, children, fathers, mothers and friends. Puerto Rico's population declined by 10% over the past decade. The debt crisis is tearing Puerto Rico's communities apart.
And yet faced with this catastrophe, Congress is blinking. Its members are being bombarded by misleading advertisements labeling any legislative solution "a bailout." Speaker Paul Ryan wanted legislation by March 31. Now the solution may drag into May, when Puerto Rico will miss another debt payment and slide further into the abyss. The next two weeks are critical. The Hispanic evangelicals of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition urge action now. Inaction will seep millions into deeper despair.
There are two important ways we can help.
1. Puerto Rico's religious community and religious leaders have been heroic in their efforts to end this crisis. Led by San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves and Bible Society head Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, the leaders are asking us to pray with them for Congress. You can sign up to pray and get involved here.
2. This Wednesday, Jubilee USA is organizing tens of thousands of Americans to call Congress and urge lawmakers to pass a bill that gives Puerto Rico the tools it needs to restructure its debt, reduces child poverty and protects Puerto Rican democracy. You can join them.