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Why Puerto Rican Statehood Would Benefit Puerto Rico

Updated on June 22, 2017

Puerto Rican statehood is a multifaceted issue. Since 1898, there have been many arguments for and against statehood. This paper will argue that based on history, Puerto Rican statehood would benefit the citizens of Puerto Rico. The first benefit to Puerto Ricans would be help with the Puerto Rican debt crisis, since the United States has tried and failed in aiding the debt crisis so far. The second benefit is that Puerto Ricans would be able to vote in Presidential election and they would obtain representation in federal government. Currently, under their commonwealth status, Puerto Ricans do not have a say in the Presidential election or any representation in Congress. The third benefit would be that the medicaid coverage would grow. Next, the transition from commonwealth to statehood would be seamless as Puerto Ricans are already United States citizens. Finally, the the fifth benefit would be that Puerto Ricans’ education would be enhanced under America's education system. Based on history, Puerto Ricans would benefit from statehood.

Currently Puerto Rico is in $123 billion worth of debt. There has been a debt crisis occurring for many years now, and the United States has tried to help but to no avail.The debt of the Puerto Rican people has continued to grow, as shown in a graph in the World Economic Forum. [Figure 1] An article by Roque Planas and Adriana Usero titled, “Why Being Treated Like A Colony Makes It Harder For Puerto Rico To Fix Its Debt” offers insight into Puerto Rico's ongoing debt crisis. The article, in essence, states that the commonwealth status of Puerto Rico is holding them back from getting out of their debt crisis. The main reason is that Puerto Rico can not declare bankruptcy. US laws don’t allow territories to file for bankruptcy, like other cities or towns would. Also since Puerto Ricans are US citizen it is really easy to leave and move to another state. But, when a vast majority of Puerto Ricans leave, the tax base becomes smaller. On December 9th, 2015 the Puerto Rico Financial Stability and Debt Restructuring Choice Act, was signed by the House of Representatives in order to lower Puerto Rican debt. In the opening of the Act it states that it will, “Provide the Government of Puerto Rico the choice to restructure its municipal debt in conjunction with enhanced financial oversight, and for other purposes.”[Puerto Rico Financial Stability and Debt Restructuring Choice Act] Essentially the United States was offering oversight while the Puerto Ricans restructured their debt. The Act signed by the house did not help aid the debt crisis due to the limitations of their commonwealth status. These sources prove the assertion that statehood would help with the Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that statehood would help with the Puerto Rican debt crisis supports my thesis that, based on the failed history of debt relief, Puerto Rican statehood would benefit Puerto Rico.

As a state, Puerto Ricans would obtain the right to vote in the presidential elections, and they would have equal representation in Congress. The legal status of Puerto Rico is as a commonwealth. People living under a US commonwealth do not have the ability to vote in Presidential elections, and since they are not a state they do not have state Representatives or Senators in Congress. According to the Jones Act signed by President Wilson on March 2nd, 1917, Puerto Ricans are US citizens. The act clearly states, “All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899 (whether before or after June 27, 1934) and not citizens, subjects, or nationals of any foreign power, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.”[Jones Act, 1917] One of the most essential rights as a US citizens is the right to vote and to be represented in government. In the case of Puerto Ricans, if they are US citizens just like the inhabitants of the fifty states, then why are they denied the right to vote? An article by Vann R. Newkirk II published in The Atlantic argues that Puerto Rico is controlled by Congress. He writes, “As long as Puerto Rico is a colony, a territory of the United States, these issues will continue to come back.”[Newkirk II, The Atlantic] These sources prove that Puerto Ricans are being mistreated when it comes to representation, and that under statehood they would have equal representation. Since Puerto Ricans are citizens according to the Jones Act, they should become a state in order to have full and equal rights. Under statehood Puerto Ricans would be able to vote for the President, also they would have Representatives and Senators. The fact that Puerto Ricans will have equal voting rights and equal representation supports the thesis that, based on the history of their citizenship, Puerto Rican statehood would have benefits for Puerto Rico.

Currently, nearly half of Puerto Ricans are on Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal and state funded health care system serving many low income individuals and families. Access to health care is an essential human right that all American citizens must receive. But Medicaid in Puerto Rico is facing fiscal challenges. If Puerto Rico is admitted as the 51st state, Medicaid funding would be enhanced, and the Medicaid system would be able to cover more Puerto Ricans. According to an article published by National Public Radio, much more funding is needed to continue the Medicaid system: “Officials note that nearly half of Puerto Rico's population is on Medicaid, and they say that a total $900 million is needed to keep the health system alive.”[National Public Radio] Because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, they are receiving less funding. According to the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, the federal government pays 20% of Puerto Rico's annual $2 billion program. If they were a state, the federal government would pay 80% of the amount, or an instant $700 million. Also according to the US Government Accountability office the estimated coverage of Medicaid would grow to $1.1 billion as a state, instead of $685 million as a territory. As shown in figure 2, the United States share of Medicaid cost is significantly less in Puerto Rico than five of the poorest states. If granted statehood the Medicaid coverage in Puerto Rico would grow astronomically in order to cover more families and individuals. These sources prove the assertion that Puerto Rico would receive enhanced Medicaid coverage under statehood. The fact that Medicaid coverage would be enhanced under statehood supports the thesis that based on the history of low Medicaid coverage, Puerto Rican statehood would benefit Puerto Rico.

The transition from commonwealth, to statehood would be seamless for the Puerto Rican people. According to the Supreme Court case of National Bank v. County of Yankton, 101 U.S. 129, Puerto Rico is controlled by Congress and follows congressional rule. The case essentially states that inhabitants living in territories of the United States, are to be governed by congress. Puerto Ricans already know how to live under rule of congress. Therefore the transition to statehood would be seamless. An article published in the Huffington Post argues that Puerto Ricans are Americans citizens and are already living by Americans norms as they can travel to other states and carry American passports. The author, Nick Visser states, “However, Puerto Ricans have held American citizenship since 1917, are able to carry American passports and can enter the U.S. mainland freely.”[Visser, Huffington Post] Since 1917 Puerto Ricans have been emigrating to other states with US passports, that were issued because of the 1917 Jones Act which entitled Puerto Ricans to US citizenship. Since they already have this right and are accustomed to US laws, rules, and expectations the transition from commonwealth to statehood would be seamless. The fact that the transition from commonwealth to statehood would be seamless, supports my thesis that based on history, Puerto Rican statehood would benefit Puerto Rico.

Under statehood the Puerto Rican education system would be enhanced. Since 2015, the Puerto Rican government has closed 10% of the schools on the island. In Puerto Rico’s School Crisis, J.V Heilig writes, “Since 2014, the Puerto Rican government has closed 135 schools—about 10% of the schools on the island. The results of these school closings are class sizes as large as 40 students.”[Heilig, The Progressive] Due to the debt crisis, the funding for the schools has been diminishing, therefore the government has been forced to close many schools. The rapid closures have prompted outrage from many native Puerto Ricans, as the basic human right of education is not properly funded. Danica Coto published an article in The Boston Globe on May 17th, 2015, offering more insight into the mass school closings in Puerto Rico. She offers staggering statistics, “The government says the situation could get much worse. It warned recently that by early next year it may run out of money to pay its bills, and over the next five years it may have to close nearly 600 of the 1,387 remaining schools across the island to save $249 million a year.”[Coto, Boston Globe] Closing 600 more schools would deprive Puerto Rican children of their education, which every United States citizen is entitled. If Puerto Rico were to be admitted into the United States, their schools would become public schools under American funding, therefore they would be funded properly. The statistics, show that Puerto Ricans education would be enhanced under an American education system. The fact that Puerto Rican schools would be funded properly under statehood, supports my thesis, that based on the failed history of Puerto Rican education, Puerto Rican statehood would benefit Puerto Ricans.

For over 100 years there have been debates for and against Puerto Rican statehood. As this paper has argued, Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state, would benefit the inhabitants of the island. Puerto Rico is in an insurmountable amount of debt. They have ran out of ways to aid their debt. As a state, the federal government would assist in resolving the debt. Therefore the citizens living in Puerto Rico would be able to live in a debt free society. One of the biggest injustices to Puerto Ricans is their lack of representation. They have no say in who leads them in the American government as they are declined the right to vote for the President. As a state the citizens of Puerto Rico would be given this right, as well as the right to Congressional Representatives, allowing Puerto Ricans to have equal voting and representation rights. Due to the huge mass of debt, many Puerto Ricans are on the medicaid program. As a commonwealth the federal government funds way less than they would be funding as a state. Healthcare, and access to quality doctors is a basic human right which all American citizens should have access to. Under statehood the Federal government would fund vastly more of the medicaid program. Since Puerto Ricans are already citizens, the transition to statehood would be seamless, due to the fact that they already are living under US laws and regulations. Finally, every child living as a citizen of the United States, should be entitled to a quality education. Puerto Rican children are not receiving excellent education as there has been mass school closings for a number of years. Education shapes who people can become, without quality education, it is harder to succeed. Under statehood the Puerto Rican system of schooling would transfer to an American system of schooling, offering the children of Puerto Rico, a more equal opportunity in life. Due to these arguments, there is no doubt that Puerto Ricans would benefit under statehood.


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