Congress, will you help Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico Governor: 'We are out of cash'
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Story highlights

  • Alejandro García Padilla: Puerto Rico is experiencing the worst financial crisis in its history
  • When will Congress answer our distress call and help the lives of millions of people?

Alejandro García Padilla is the governor of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Mayday. This is a distress call to Congress from the people of Puerto Rico.

The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is experiencing the worst financial crisis in its history. The decades-in-the-making crisis began in 1996 when Congress repealed economic incentives to American businesses on the island, sending hundreds of thousands of American jobs abroad.
Now, this has evolved into a humanitarian crisis with devastating effects rippling across the U.S. capital markets. In times of calamity people flee, and Puerto Rico is seeing a historic level of emigration, typically only seen after catastrophic natural phenomena or armed conflicts.
    Alejandro García Padilla
    That migration threatens to throw the island into a death spiral, crippling its economy even further and ever reducing its revenue base. This almost certain outcome will benefit no one. Instead, it will hurt our creditors and cause an unsustainable situation that could cost Congress an inconceivable amount of money in the long run.
    My administration has taken bold emergency measures, but we have emptied our toolbox. We have reduced expenses by over 20%, increased revenues to a level that could soon hurt our recovery, and changed the government pension system from defined benefit to a defined contribution, including current employees. We have even redirected revenues pledged to certain creditors to pay others, and we have been forced to retain tax refunds and payments to noncritical vendors. We have done our part, and yet our island's ship cannot sail.
    To be clear, no one is asking or has asked for a bailout. We are only asking for what we believe is fair: to have a legal framework similar to what the states have to meet our creditors before a federal court and resolve this matter in an orderly fashion.
    Far from a bailout, this would cost nothing. This is simply a request to provide everyone with due process and avoid lengthy and costly legal battles that would hinder the Puerto Rico's ability to have police and firefighters on the streets, nurses in hospitals, and teachers in schools. A disorderly process would also hurt our creditors.
    Having run out of options and cash, Puerto Rico's last chance is this distress call issued to the American people and to their representatives in Congress. It is also the call of more than 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States, over a million of whom reside in Florida. The American people have a choice to answer or ignore this call, but they should know that this choice will determine the fate of millions of their brothers and sisters and the island they call home.
    For decades, Puerto Ricans have lived up to a clear expectation that every American is bound together in our shared journey of freedom and social mobility, and that we are all our brother's keepers. This expectation carries shared responsibilities, which we meet every day.
    Puerto Rico has always answered the distress calls coming our way. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have courageously answered the highest calling, serving and giving their lives in disproportionate numbers in every armed conflict since they were first sent to the front lines in World War I. Millions of Puerto Rican men and women continue to proudly and selflessly serve our common good, our "common wealth," not only by serving in the U.S. armed forces and contributing meaningfully to their communities in the mainland, but also by working tirelessly here on the island.
    The impact of their work is felt in every industry, in every state. Every day, Puerto Ricans work to improve the quality of life of Americans by manufacturing six of the top 10 best-selling prescription drugs in the world. Eight of the top 10 medical devices companies have operations in the island. Every day, thousands of Puerto Ricans contribute at the highest levels in sports, arts, government and academia.
    Puerto Ricans are proud to contribute in such rich and meaningful ways, and to be there for others when and where we can. This is not something we do because we anticipate the same from others, but because we understand the profound sense of duty stemming from our shared aspirations, and because we look forward to a bright future for all Americans.
    Puerto Ricans will always answer your call, especially in times of hardship. In our time of hardship, we're sending out a call of our own. So far in this crisis some members in Congress think that Puerto Ricans are only good to be sent to the front lines of war. Puerto Ricans cannot be another casualty of Congress.
    Congress, do you copy?