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Puerto Rico, Too, Needs Stimulus To Enhance Economy


January 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002
THE MIAMI HERALD . All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- There is strong hope here that the U.S. Congress will revisit a proposed economic-stimulus package that would provide $450 million in aid to lower-income U.S. citizens who live on the island.

These are the same, much-touted rebates that 95 million Americans received in late summer from Washington, with promises that the money would help provoke consumer spending in a shaky economy across the 50 states. Now there is talk in Washington to provide an additional $60 billion in aid, in part to assist many lower-income Americans who earned too little to qualify for this summer's rebate checks, but who paid their Social Security taxes. Many of these people reside in Puerto Rico.

If enacted, this package would become an enormous boon for the island's economy.

We often say in Puerto Rico that when the U.S. economy gets a sniffle, the Puerto Rican economy gets pneumonia. The island's economy hinges on a thriving business sector in America. As you can imagine, the past few months have been a struggle for business throughout Puerto Rico.

Although we are American citizens, we were not entitled to the fruits of the same economic-stimulus package that those who live on the mainland enjoyed this summer. There were no $300 checks for single residents, $500 rebates for heads of households or $600 checks for joint filers coming to our doors.

A significant sector of the Puerto Rican economy is tourism. We welcome all Americans to enjoy our beaches, local music and strong cultural fabric. In fact, our tourism industry banks on the fact that you will visit us time and time again.

But since Sept. 11, many of our hotel rooms have gone empty, our restaurants closed early. The toll has been enormous, and the effects have further hampered the anemic economy in Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, our concerns are not being heard in the halls of Congress. We have no voting delegates in either house and, with our muffled voice, it has been simple for Congress to exclude us from the original economic-stimulus package. The 3.8 million Americans in Puerto Rico have been shuffled aside to the immediate detriment of our local economy.

Likely, not many representatives in Congress gave Puerto Rico a second thought. This thinking has to change.

This disregard for a significant population of Americans who truly can benefit from these rebates shows once again that the status of Puerto Rico must be resolved. The island should become a full-fledged member of the United States, as it deserves, to get the political voice it needs.

I agree with President Bush's assessment that these checks from the U.S. Treasury have helped spark the local economies in communities all over the country, ``but lasting prosperity requires long-term thinking.''

To that end, for the United States to climb out of the recession, Congress cannot pick and choose which Americans ``are good enough'' to receive a boost from the federal government. In Puerto Rico, where family income is considerably lower than the national average, this money would have an enormous long-term benefit.

It also sends the right message to the people of Puerto Rico: Yes, we are all Americans. Together, we will persevere.

Kenneth McClintock is minority leader of the Puerto Rico Senate.

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