Why Puerto Rico is not a US state

Puerto Ricans are US citizens. But that doesn’t mean they have the same rights as other Americans.
By Christina Thornell Jan 26, 2018, 1:30pm EST

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. They are — and have been since 1917.
As residents of a US commonwealth, Puerto Ricans have US passports, can travel freely throughout the country, and can serve in the military. But that doesn’t mean they get the same rights and benefits as US citizens stateside.
Most notably, Puerto Ricans, despite paying most federal taxes, don’t have federal representation in Congress. This means they can’t vote on issues that affect the island’s development, such as Medicaid, food stamps, or even their political future.
Watch the video above to understand how Puerto Rico became one of five inhabited US territories, the tangled relationship that developed between the island and the mainland, and how it all affects Puerto Rico’s prosperity and development today.

 

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‘We are second-class citizens’: Puerto Rico’s governor responds to GOP tax bill, lack of aid funding

“In the time to take action, they have reneged.”
Addy Baird  Dec 21, 2017, 6:43 pm
Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló vowed to target Republicans at the ballot box next year after Congress failed to appropriate necessary disaster relief funding for the island and left provisions in the recently passed tax bill that could devastate Puerto Rico’s economy.
“We are going to do an evaluation of all of the congressmen and congresswomen that pledged support to Puerto Rico, and in the time to take action, they have reneged on that word,” Rosselló said on MSNBC Thursday. “We are second-class citizens. We don’t have representation, but we do have 5.3 million Puerto Ricans in the United States and we want to organize them to make sure that our voice is heard.”  Three months after Hurricane Maria hit the territory, Puerto Rico is still experiencing a “super blackout,” the longest and largest power outage in modern American history. Many people are still living in darkness, and the island is not expected to have full power until February, up to five months after the storm. Deaths from the storm have also been significantly under-reported by the government, and although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the island has potable water, experts say that can’t possibly be true.

To make matters worse, Democrats and other advocates argue that the funding Congress has appropriated to help Puerto Ricans in need is only a fraction of what’s necessary, and certain provisions in the recently passed Republican tax bill could devastate the island’s economy.
On Thursday, the House passed a funding bill to deliver $81 billion to Puerto Rico and other communities recently affected by disasters in Texas, California, and Florida, but the package has been met with resistance in the Senate and is unlikely to pass. Even if it does, Puerto Rico alone is estimated to need $21 billion over the next two years.
And despite being part of the United States, the newly passed bill treats Puerto Rico like a foreign country, and part of the bill that aim to incentivize bringing business back to the United States could mean that business may abandon Puerto Rico for the mainland.
So although Rosselló would not name names on MSNBC Thursday, he is vowing to fight those decisions on election day. But, perhaps more importantly, he said Puerto Rico should “of course” have representation in Congress.

“If there was one time in our history where we can see what it means to be a colonial territory versus what it means to be a state, right now it’s that time,” he said. “We don’t have political power in Congress. We don’t have equal treatment in federal programs, and until we show that we can muster some muscle in some other jurisdictions or until the United States calls upon what I think is a moral imperative to finalize colonialism in the 21st century, transition out of that, and make Puerto Rico a state, which has been favored by Puerto Ricans twice in the last five years, then we will be with this lingering dilemma.”

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Tiny Montana Firm Gets $300 Million Contract To Help Restore Power In Puerto Rico

October 24, 20175:34 PM ET
Nicky Ouellet
Laurel Wamsley

Whitefish Energy workers restore power lines damaged in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, on October 15. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has ordered an audit of the $300 million deal the island’s power authority made with Whitefish.
Ramon Espinosa/AP
Last week, a small Montana company called Whitefish Energy Holdings announced that it had been given a $300 million contract by Puerto Rico’s electricity authority to help restore the power grid on the island, where some 75 percent of customers remain without power.

The decision to award such a big contract – and such an enormous challenge – to a tiny company founded just two years ago has surprised many. Power companies don’t generally use contractors to restore electricity, but make arrangements for help from other utilities.

Puerto Rico’s power grid was precarious even before Hurricane Maria made landfall a month ago. But since the storm, the problem is immense. It could take at least six months for service to be fully restored.

U.S.
Why It’s So Hard To Turn The Lights Back On In Puerto Rico
Whitefish Energy is tasked with rebuilding three to four transmission lines, or more than 100 miles of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)’s 2,500 miles of lines. Montana newspaper Flathead Beacon called it “a windfall for the relatively untested” company.

The firm’s website offers little detail on the company or its track record. It’s based in Whitefish, Mont., the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Its financing comes from two Dallas-based investment groups and a Brazilian company that produces distribution and power transformers.

A profile of the company on a site that tracks federal contracts lists Whitefish as having just two employees and $1 million in annual revenue.

So why was it given such a big, expensive job?

PREPA’s chief executive officer Ricardo Ramos describes the choice as a matter of timing and convenience.

“We knew there was going to be a direct hit, so we wanted as much resources as possible,” Ramos told NPR. “Their name popped up on several fronts.”

Ramos says PREPA received bids from a few companies in the lull between Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The utility, which filed for bankruptcy in July, shortlisted two, including Whitefish.

“Just before Hurricane Maria came, one of those two requested a payment guarantee that we thought was a bit onerous, so we decided to mobilize Whitefish,” Ramos says.

Whitefish did not ask for a payment guarantee, and it got the contract with PREPA.

The firm was picked because it was “the only one who was willing to take on the job of restoring power for the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria,” Margaret Jones of LDWW Group, a public relations firm representing Whitefish, wrote in an email. “When they called and needed help – Whitefish went right to work.”

Usually after a catastrophic power outage, utility companies call a trade organization to initiate mutual aid. The American Public Power Association, of which PREPA is a member, organizes a network of state and regional public power utilities to restore electricity quickly.

Meena Dayak, the association’s spokeswoman, tells NPR that the mutual aid program is “basically a matchmaking service” — utilities contract directly with one other to provide services and work out payment.

That’s what happened in Texas after Harvey, and in Florida following Irma. The day after Irma’s departure, Florida Power & Light said it had more than 20,000 workers from 30 states and Canada deployed to restore power.

Here & Now Compass
Weeks After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Struggles To Turn On The Lights
But PREPA never asked for mutual aid from the association, and instead it hired Whitefish to handle the job.

“Just a matter of the timing,” says Ramos. “Hurricane came, all communications went down, our servers were down.”

Whitefish then subcontracted Jacksonville Electric Authority and Kissimmee Utility Authority to work with it on transmission system restoration. The firm says it now has about 300 workers on the ground. Even Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski reportedly noted that it’s unusual for electrical utilities to work under a contractor.

PREPA’s decision to contract Whitefish could be a costly one.

While the Whitefish spokeswoman says it’s “not possible at this time to estimate” the cost of completing the work, the hourly wages the firm is reportedly charging for its contracted workers are eye-popping.

“Under the contract, the hourly rate was set at $330 for a site supervisor, and at $227.88 for a ‘journeyman lineman,'” The Washington Post reports. “The cost for subcontractors, which make up the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, is $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319.04 for a lineman. Whitefish also charges nightly accommodation fees of $332 per worker and almost $80 per day for food.”

UTIER, the electrical workers’ union of Puerto Rico, tweeted its consternation at those rates. “We need support and help, but under these conditions it is impossible and questionable. Who allowed this?”

The firm’s spokeswoman told NPR that while this is Whitefish’s first job in Puerto Rico, the company brings experience in maintaining and repairing transmission lines and working in mountainous regions. A recent project in Washington State included using helicopters in the rebuilding of a distribution line destroyed by forest fire, she said.

Techmanski told Bloomberg that while other utilities “are all afraid of the question of how are we going to get paid, Whitefish Energy was the company that actually made the leap of faith and was able to get over here.”

On social media, Whitefish is energetic about its work, posting videos of a crewmen dangling from a helicopter with exciting music in the background. But Whitefish also says it’s having a hard time accessing work sites because of debris.

PREPA says it has paid Whitefish $2 million so far for its mobilization and work through October 11. At least at the outset, Whitefish’s bills will likely be paid with money from FEMA, which announced yesterday more than $215 million in assistance to PREPA. Whitefish could be paid up to $300 million for the work.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told the Post that of the $490 million the commonwealth expects to spend on restoring power, “a large portion of that would probably go to Whitefish” and another contractor.

But Puerto Rico doesn’t have money to burn. The commonwealth could run of money as soon as the end of the month, the Post reports.

The House Committee on Natural Resources told NPR today that it plans to discuss the contract at an upcoming hearing.

“The size and unknown details of this contract raises numerous questions,” said Parish Braden, a committee spokesman. “This is one of many things the committee is taking a close look at as it continues to work with the resident commissioner, governor’s office, and oversight board to ensure Puerto Rico’s recovery is robust, effective and sustained.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Rosselló said he had ordered his Office of Management and Budget to audit the Whitefish contract and others made by PREPA for power restoration.

Contracts, Rosselló said, would have to both meet FEMA’s standards and comply with the budget office’s audit, to ensure “the processes have been carried out correctly in this and other circumstances.”

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USPS looking for volunteer Postal Employees to work in Puerto Rico

Posted on October 18, 2017 by postal
10/17/2017 USPS is accepting requests from employees who want to volunteer to work in Puerto Rico to help restore service following hurricanes Irma and Maria.

If you wish to participate, you must submit a letter of intent no later than Friday, Oct. 20.

Career and non-career employees who want to volunteer to work in Puerto Rico must submit letters of intent no later than Oct. 20.
Career and non-career employees are needed. Those selected will work in their assigned crafts. To cite two examples, letter carriers will carry mail, while mail handlers will support processing activities.

The Postal Service won’t pay travel, housing or per diem. You’ll need to arrange your own accommodations with relatives who live in the area — and you’ll need to state this in your letter.

You’ll get your regular pay, plus overtime when applicable.

Assignments will be made on a 30-day basis and evaluated at the end of each period to determine if the assignment should be renewed.

“This is not an assignment for everyone. But for some of you, it is an opportunity to extend your service in a place and at a time when it is needed,” said Northeastern Area VP Ed Phelan, whose jurisdiction includes the Caribbean.

More information, including instructions on submitting letters of intent, are available in a memo posted on LiteBlue.

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