Puerto Ricans have been fleeing the island at a rate of 2,000 a day, a huge hit to the hurricane-ravaged island, according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The impact of the human outflow could be damaging to the island’s manufacturing base, which tops tourism as its income base.
“Puerto Rico's main source of income is not tourism, it's manufacturing -- pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electronics, computers. That means when you have zero revenue because of no power on the island, the already weakened economy is going to get worse,” said Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico in the House.
“I just spoke with the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, and he told me that more than 84,000 Puerto Ricans left Puerto Rico over the past 42 days. Those are people who are workers -- people who are part of the tax base,” she added in a Ripon Society discussion earlier this month and just released.
The numbers of those leaving the island are a startling reminder of the delays in getting Puerto Rico up and running after Hurricane Maria slammed it two months ago.
But in discussion about Puerto Rico released by Ripon, the influential moderate Republican policy group, Gonzalez-Colon and other lawmakers generally praised the federal response.
“We have been receiving funds and we have been receiving help,” she said, “but we are still shy in some areas. I think the Corps of Engineers was given three tasks. They have been slow in all three. That's the main concern, but the rest of the agencies have been doing a wonderful job.”
She and two other lawmakers said the federal goal of the recovery should be to improve the island’s infrastructure, not just repair it to pre-hurricane levels.
“The risk we face is that some want to say, 'What’s the least amount we can do to get this problem off our back?'” said Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy, chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance.
“I think that's the wrong approach. I think we have to take this opportunity to say, 'How big can we go? What kind of vision can we have as a Congress to actually do this the right way?' And I would just challenge all of you as we think through kind of what’s in the realm of possibility. We need partners, we need friends, we need allies, we need to spitball together as a group of people who care about Puerto Rico to get the best and more innovative and creative ideas flowing, so we can pick what we think is the best and most politically possible options for us to move forward with,” he added.
“I think long term we really need to look at why we have 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico who are not in a state,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur. “Everything has to be rethought and redone. The tax code, the way Medicaid is handled -- so many issues will actually go away if Puerto Rico were a state. There are mostly political issues around that and they can be solved -- maybe it’s phased in over time -- the representation. But I think ultimately we have to consider why 3.5 million Americans are living sort of a second class existence just off the Florida coast.”
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com