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June 21, 2001
James Hansen, a conservative Republican congressman from Utah, claimed this week that the people of Puerto Rico have a "sweetheart deal" and are living off welfare from the United States.
"They sit down there on welfare, and very few of them paying taxes," Hansen said.
It would be easy to blame these idiotic remarks on overexposure to Utah's desert sun, but unfortunately more than a few people in our country actually believe such nonsense.
So the time has come to puncture this welfare state myth once and for all.
Can you handle it, Hansen?
Utah vs. Puerto Rico
Two simple facts that will blow your mind: First, the state of Utah receives far more federal aid than does Puerto Rico !
Second, every year Puerto Rico contributes billions of dollars more to the U.S. economy than it receives in return, and this has gone on for decades. In other words, Puerto Ricans are subsidizing U.S. prosperity.
But don't take my word for it. Check the Census Bureau's own statistics. Every year, the bureau publishes something called the "Consolidated Federal Funds Report," which breaks down federal payments to individual states and territories.
The latest one, for fiscal 1999, reveals that the federal treasury spent $12.9 billion in Puerto Rico - compared with $9.2 billion in Utah.
But Utah's population of 2.3 million is far smaller than Puerto Rico 's 3.8 million. Since 1917, anyone born in Puerto Rico has been a U.S. citizen, yet on a per capita basis the federal government shelled out an average of $4,016 for every resident of Utah in 1999, compared with $3,416 for every resident of Puerto Rico .
And even though only 10% of Utah's population lives below the poverty level - compared with 65% of Puerto Rico 's population - Utah received more than twice as many Medicaid dollars from the federal government: $558 million to $219 million.
Actually, the federal transfers are not all outright grants. Payments for things such as Social Security, veterans benefits and Medicare are all entitlements the recipients have earned - either through service in the military or through payroll taxes. Subtracting those entitlements, federal grants to Puerto Rico are reduced to $7.5 billion, and $5.2 billion for Utah.
That's still a lot of money. Yet it doesn't begin to compare with the vast wealth tiny Puerto Rico provides the United States.
The island is so small, after all, that it could practically fit inside Utah's Great Salt Lake, yet for decades it has been the most profitable place for U.S. corporations in the world.
In 1995, for instance, U.S. companies earned $14.3 billion in profits from their direct investments in Puerto Rico , more than any other nation, and more than their combined profits in Brazil, Germany and Mexico.
Those companies made such superprofits because, just like individual Puerto Rican citizens, they are exempt from federal income taxes.
The actual amount of money Puerto Rican individuals would have to pay in federal taxes, remember, would not be that great, because two- thirds of them are at the poverty level and many would be eligible for the earned income tax credit.
No contest on education, stars
Another place where Utah gets far more federal money than Puerto Rico is in military payrolls and procurement. That might explain why Hansen is so upset over Puerto Rican protests against military bombing in Vieques .
Hansen should spend more time studying the facts and less time displaying his ignorance. Utah, after all, seems to suffer from an educational deficit. In 1990, a mere 177,000 of the state's adult residents had college degrees, compared with 503,000 in Puerto Rico .
No wonder the list of famous Puerto Ricans seems to dwarf that of poor Utah. Utah claims such well-known natives as Roseanne, Maude Adams, the Osmonds and Butch Cassidy, the outlaw. The state's biggest native sports heroes? Former pro footballers Merlin Olsen and Jim McMahon.
Puerto Ricans , on the other hand, proudly point to world-famous cellist Pablo Casals, percussionist Tito Puente, actors Raul Julia and Rita Moreno, singers Marc Anthony and Jose Feliciano. As for sports, from Roberto Clemente to Orlando Cepeda to Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, the list of stars seems as endless as the deserts of Utah.
June 21, 2001
The title of most buffoonish member of Congress is not lightly given because, I suppose, there are so many contenders. Now it appears that the embarrassment of being Congress' worst embarrassment belongs to an obscure congressman and piece of work named Jim Hansen, a Utah Republican. He went on National Public Radio last week and, with breathtaking bad taste, trashed Puerto Ricans . What provoked him was President Bush's decision to stop bombing the island of Vieques to smithereens but not until 2003.
Hansen's words: "I come down to the idea where I don't see where Puerto Rico should get any favorite treatment over the rest of these people. Now what have they done to get it? They sit down there on welfare and very few of them paying taxes, got a sweetheart deal. I just don't see the equity in it, but maybe I don't understand it."
There are so many things the thick-witted congressman must not understand such as the last thing Bush needs is some raving bigot blowing up the bridges he is so assiduously trying to build to the nation's Hispanic population.
Hansen expresses the vulgar, ignorant and inelegant philosophy usually spouted by people who say "All Puerto Ricans are . . . " and fill in the blanks with whatever vile insult pops into their heads. There are, I suppose, a lot of ignorant people who would make mindless generalizations about blameless people who live in Utah. These would include such slanders as Utah is a state full of sex- crazed polygamists or it is populated by intolerant fanatics because until recent years blacks were excluded from the Mormon Church.
The splendid people of Puerto Rico have seen their language and culture thrive and prosper in the face of worse insults and patronizing mainland attitudes. So I hope the good citizens of Utah will rise above the indignities and shame Hansen invites on them.