A significant portion of Puerto Rico doesn't even have electricity today following an island-wide blackout, but the federal control board tasked with turning the island's finances around is calling for sweeping austerity measures and other changes that could screw the island for generations.
Among other things, the board is calling for pension cuts, layoffs, fewer bonuses, cuts to higher education, and even cuts to sick leave.
Most heinously, the board is also calling for implementing work requirements for food.
From the Associated Press:
The plans released Wednesday call for a 10 percent average cut to a pension system facing nearly $50 billion in liabilities. They also seek the closure of prisons, consolidation of dozens of state agencies and significant reductions in government subsidies to the island’s 78 municipalities and Puerto Rico’s largest public university. The board also said Puerto Rico’s government should cut sick leave and vacation pay by half. [...]
The board said the government needs to consolidate its 114 agencies into 22 groups as well as consolidate police stations and replace officers performing civilian duties with “less expensive” civilian personnel. [...]
On broader economic matters, the board said Puerto Rico’s government should make a Christmas bonus voluntary for employers and allow employers to dismiss workers without first having to prove just cause. It called for the minimum wage for workers 25 and older to increase by 25 cents an hour and said the government should immediately impose a work requirement for a nutritional assistance program and increase a labor force participation rate that stands at 42 percent, the seventh lowest in the world.
And just how are people suppose to meet work requirements for food in an isolated economy devastated by a hurricane where austerity is also leading to layoffs?
This would normally be the point where I say 'don't vote for people who want you dead,' but this is Puerto Rico. It's not their fault. The control board was created by Congress. Puerto Rico is not being treated like a state or even a municipality, more like a colony.
To his credit, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello says he will not agree to any plan that cuts pensions and imposes layoffs, but that could still leave many other austerity measures he might have to accept.
Puerto Rico is being asked to agree to these terms in exchange for assistance from the mainland for rebuilding the island, but no one knows for sure if the money will actually be there.
Economist Jose Caraballo told The Associated Press that help pledged by federal officials might not materialize, leaving the U.S. territory with less money than anticipated.
“We know about President Trump’s emotional swings,” he said. “And he might say no next time.”