by Cesar Conda and Alberto Martinez
Weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island remains in crisis. Eighty three percent of people in Puerto Rico don’t have power and thirty five percent don’t have access to clean water. The death toll currently stands at 48 but is likely to keep rising in the coming weeks.
Washington has responded to this crisis with billions in immediate disaster assistance, helping the cash-strapped island afford its basic expenses after tax revenue has all but dried up. This financial commitment isn’t going to end anytime soon: Experts suggest the final cost could exceed $100 billion.
Given the staggering sums of money involved, the recent hurricanes have made clear more than ever that the United States has a direct stake in Puerto Rico’s success, ensuring that the island has a robust economy and can withstand future hurricanes or other emergencies. As long as Puerto Rico remains vulnerable, the U.S.—and American taxpayers—will ultimately be on the hook when the next storm inevitably strikes. An economically strong Puerto Rico is thus critical to the mainland United States.
But sustainable social and economic success hinges on something Washington has long denied the island territory: statehood. Admission to the union has long been given lip service by both political parties, but short-term political interests always delayed congressional action. As policymakers help Puerto Rico recover from Maria, they will examine ways to best use billions of federal dollars to fortify the island’s infrastructure and rebuild its economy. Statehood should be at the top of those discussions.