The Forgotten People: Puerto Rico’s Elderly and Disabled After Hurricane Maria

IMG_0750 (2)

During my time as a student attorney in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistant Clinic, I have been fortunate enough to be able to go on a few of what we call “humanitarian brigades.” During these brigades, we go into some of the more impoverished communities that have been impacted by Hurricane Maria. The communities of Arroyo and Maunabo that I visited are still dealing with the loss of power four months later, and some houses are still without water. When we go on these brigades our goal is simple: bring some essential goods and solar lamps directly to people’s homes. Though through the course of the brigades I have been invited into many homes and discovered a population that has been forgotten by much of society… the elderly and disabled.

The hurricane has created hardships in every community, with the loss of homes, electricity, water, and lives. The one population that has been struggling more than others on the road to recovery are the elderly and disabled. These individuals were having difficulties caring for themselves before the disaster, and now months later have to continue that struggle through conditions of high temperatures, darkness and filth. I have met some amazing people who are doing all they can to care for elderly and disabled friends and neighbors unable to care for themselves either physically or financially. These self-assumed caregivers have kept this population alive, but with such high poverty in the communities, caring for others can come at a cost to oneself. Our community liaisons during the brigades have been wonderful in pointing out the elderly and disabled within a community who have the highest level of need, but we can only provide so much. The problem of appropriate care will be an ongoing issue.

The humanitarian work we have done has been truly rewarding, and an emotional rollercoaster at times. There was one visit in particular where an elderly woman was bedridden and being taken care of by her neighbor. We provided a solar lamp, soap, adult diapers and baby wipes, but it was the sight of a towel that made the caregiver instantly start crying. We rushed to grab some more towels for them, and while these towels were exactly what they needed, she kept crying because she was amazed that we cared. It is so easy during this work to have a sense of guilt or helplessness because we want to do so much more for these people, but in that moment I knew that we had done good by showing the communities that we cared, and showing the elderly and disabled that they were not forgotten.

The #UBLawResponds Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic has provided student attorneys with a unique opportunity to speak directly to the individuals impacted and discover the needs they have that aren’t being identified. We have heard stories of people being found sick and alone in their beds because their caregivers left the island, and people dying on hospital steps because they were unable to make it there before the hospital closed. These stories describe a larger issue of how people care for the elderly and disabled when they are barely able to care for themselves. The Puerto Ricans I have met who are caring for them are giving all they can, but they shouldn’t have to. There needs to be a way for the communities and government to respond to these particular needs, so that this population receives appropriate care again, and people stop dying due to hurricane-related issues.

#UBLawResponds has been fortunate enough to receive donations, which have made providing the goods during the humanitarian brigades possible. We are always looking to provide more humanitarian support, which requires more resources, so I ask that you consider donating  to directly impact the people we serve. If you are unable to donate, then I would ask that you take some time to consider the people in your own life that might need support, and see how you can serve in your own communities.

 

I Am More Than My Municipality

1058px-USA_Puerto_Rico_labeled.svg

Each municipality in Puerto Rico has its own distinct flavor and feel. Already a small island, many Puerto Ricans derive a sense of identity from the particular municipality they are from. There is the idea that people from a certain municipality look a certain way and are of a certain ilk. When I say I am from California, I often see people treating me differently, as if they are using where I am from as a personality indicator. People tend to make certain assumptions about me and tend to ascribe traits of mine as being a result of my California roots. The same goes for my roots in Puerto Rico. When speaking with other Puerto Ricans, I have been conditioned to say that my family is from Bayamon, because I know at some point that question is going to be asked. Where your roots are in Puerto Rico is not only a source of pride, but it is also a way in which others make certain assumptions about you. Visiting different municipalities as a #UBLawResponds student attorney in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic so far on this trip further confirms this notion.

Santurce, where I am currently staying, is a large and populated district. There is a lot available within walking distance. Quebradillas, where I went to offer assistance with FEMA appeals, is in between a larger district and a rural one. Businesses are more spread out, but they are at least a drivable distance. In rural Arroyo, where I assisted with a humanitarian distribution effort, businesses are very spread out and travel was not as easy as it is in Santurce. Loíza, where I went on a second legal assistance brigade, was similar to Arroyo in that respect. However, the difference in appearance between each district is far more noticeable in these different districts.

Puerto Ricans come in all different shades, since we are a mix of Taino, Spanish, and African heritage. Some people look like an even mix of all three, some people look like a mix of two of the three, and some people look largely like one of the three. Even though Puerto Ricans come in many different varieties, some Puerto Ricans swear that they can usually recognize a fellow Puerto Rican by their distinct facial features. Some Puerto Ricans also swear that they can rule out which municipalities you are from, based on what you look like. If you are darker skinned, then the assumption is often made that you are not from a large, more metropolitan district. If you are lighter skinned, then the assumption is often made that you are not from a rural area. Those assumptions are very telling and paint a picture about the seldom discussed race issue in Puerto Rico.

Race issues in Puerto Rico are like embarrassing family members that you try to distance yourself from, but everyone knows are related to you anyway. As one explores the island, it becomes apparent that wealth is spread largely among people who look a certain way and poverty is among people who look another way. This, however, will be a problem for a long time so long as Puerto Ricans refuse to acknowledge the differences in race on the island.

 

Shelter from the Storm: Puerto Rico’s Uninsured Homeowners Face an Uphill Battle to Rebuild in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 10.50.41 PM
The phrase on this abandoned building in Arroyo, Puerto Rico translates to “The hand of God.”

When Hurricane Maria’s Category 4+ winds slammed into Puerto Rico last September, they exposed serious issues with the island territory’s infrastructure that go beyond providing water and electricity. For both economic and cultural reasons, Puerto Rico is woefully underinsured, leaving many homeowners without adequate funding to rebuild their shattered homes and dependent on a bankrupt territorial government on the one hand, and a federal government that seems, at best, reluctant to offer its full assistance on the other.

One of the biggest obstacles to rebuilding Puerto Rico is that as many as half of the island’s homes do not have insurance, while less than 1% of properties are covered by federal flood insurance. While speaking with students in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, insurance expert Ariel Rivera said that because of this lack of coverage, only 720 insurance claims related to Hurricane Maria had been submitted by residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as of January 5th, 2018, resulting in over $1.3 million in advance payments. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the over 32,000 claims Mr. Rivera says were submitted by U.S. citizens over the same time period, and the over $134 million in advance payments survivors received in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida only weeks before Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 10.50.52 PM
Ariel Rivera, owner of Ariel Rivera & Associates Insurance Agency in San Juan, speaks with University at Buffalo Clinic students on Monday, January 23rd at the University of Puerto Rico.

The lack of insurance coverage in Puerto Rico is due in part to the island’s struggling economy, as nearly half of the population was already living below the poverty line before Hurricane Maria hit. However, Mr. Rivera also said that Puerto Rico’s tight-knit family structure and decades of lax building code enforcement at the local level had allowed unregulated construction to flourish, and now more than half of the homes in Puerto Rico are illegally constructed.

Tragically, families living in these homes, often for generations, could not have purchased insurance prior to Maria even if they had the means to do so because their homes were built without the permits from their local municipalities, and were not constructed in accordance with applicable building codes. Without insurance, these families will be forced to rely on the government or charitable organizations to repair or rebuild their homes, making disaster relief from FEMA even more imperative. Unfortunately, our students have seen firsthand the difficulties faced by their fellow citizens who have had claims denied by FEMA or received offers of $1,000 in assistance to rebuild homes that one survivor described as “a complete loss.”

Moving forward, HUD Secretary Ben Carson has “promised to break through entrenched government policies to put people on the path to self-sufficiency,” telling Politico, “We do recognize that the situation is different here than it is in Texas or Florida . . . We want to look at the goals, not the rules.”

For now however, #UBLawResponds student attorneys and staff in the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic are busy working alongside organizations like Ayuda Legal Huracan Maria to help survivors appeal unfavorable FEMA decisions, and to provide humanitarian assistance to those who have remained without power and potable water for the past four months. I am proud to be part of this amazing group supporting the work of faculty and students as a librarian; we are working as hard as we can to help our fellow citizens rebuild their homes and lives. You can support our ongoing efforts here.

Paying Rent Under a Blue Roof: Landlord Tenant Law in Puerto Rico after Maria

img_0358-1.jpg

Imagine experiencing a hurricane: you are terrified for your own safety, that of your loved ones, your property. You’re concerned about basic survival: life becomes a lot harder when you have no electricity and no cell phone signal. The place you are employed may be temporarily or permanently closed—you’ve also lost your income. But, for many tenants in Puerto Rico, their concerns don’t end there.

Add to all your other concerns the fact that the property that you pay to live in has been seriously damaged by the hurricane. You’re living under a “blue roof” (a tarp); chances are your landlord is in a tough financial situation after the hurricane as well and cannot afford to make such a huge repair or is waiting to get help from his insurance or possibly FEMA. Now you’re in a tough position: living under a blue roof, you’re still expected to pay your rent.

Some readers may simply think: if your landlord’s not willing to get the job done, then just move. But, regardless of whether you rent a home or own a home, it’s important to never forget that the place you live is still your home.

It’s hard to define the idea of home. Habitat for Humanity did it’s best to try to define “home.” It asked the people that it helps provide with houses what they consider to be home and found that “the common thread binding each family was that each home became these families’ base for everything: faith, hope, family, school, fellowship, even future struggles and conquests.”

Home is your safe place, your place of refuge. What an awful thing to lose, but it’s a common loss as a result of natural disasters. So, in the case that you cannot afford to move, do not have the energy to move, or simply don’t want to move, it’s important to know your rights.

As a #UBLawResponds student in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, I have done research to help tenants know their rights. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most important things to know about your rights as a tenant in Puerto Rico.

If repairs are needed, you have to notify your landlord. 31 L.P.R.A. § 4056         

Your landlord is responsible to make such repairs within a reasonable amount of time and to maintain the property in the same condition as you rented it. If such repairs take more than 40 days, your rent should be reduced. 31 L.P.R.A. § 4051, 31 L.P.R.A. § 4055.

Your landlord cannot evict you without formal court proceedings. The landlord has to fill out all of the necessary paperwork and take you to court. 32 L.P.R.A.

Unfortunately, you cannot force a landlord to do anything. But, it is always better to know your basic tenant rights in this situation; it’s one less thing to worry about trying to figure out. And while it is hard to leave a place you consider home, don’t ever forget how strong you are—you survived a hurricane. You have the strength to make a new place your home.

Get Off My Lawn! Difficulties in Determining Land and Home Ownership

IMG_1018 (1)

Puerto Rico is a beautiful and unique place. The only tropical rainforest in the United States is El Yunque in Puerto Rico, the world’s most sensitive single-dish radio telescope capable of radar astronomy is in Puerto Rico, and at least 50 species of animals found only in Puerto Rico are just a couple ways in which the island is one-of-a-kind. More relevantly, homelessness, unauthorized home construction, undocumented transfers of ownership, and unique laws in Puerto Rico present incredibly unique legal issues and dilemmas.

Families in Puerto Rico are very close-knit and it is not unusual for adult children to build homes on their parents’ property in order to remain close, and due to a lack of resources to buy property or a house of their own. The family may build a separate building for the grown children to move into with their spouses, or they may build additional rooms onto the parents’ house. Resulting legal issues abound: “landowners” often lack a proper title; even if landowners do have a title, proper building permits often have not been obtained; and often a proper deed does not exist to prove ownership of the structures. Without these documents, pursuing legal avenues after a damaging event or disaster can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Puerto Rico’s rural housing realities have made recovery from Hurricane Maria’s even more difficult. Imagine your family has lived in the same valley for generations—each generation building another small house just a few yards away from their parents’ house. The houses have now spread up the side of the mountain and across the valley. Now imagine a Category 4 hurricane hits the island, dumping 30 inches of rain on you and your family in 18 hours. The valley floods and landslides come down parts of the mountains, winds exceeding 200 mph tear off roofs and rip trees from the ground, turning them into missiles. The flooding changes the course of the nearby river and houses fall over its banks. Every house is damaged in some way. What are you going to do?

This is just a fraction of what the citizens in Puerto Rico had to deal with after hurricane Maria. They had to cope with their lives being completely uprooted and altered. Many, many people lost both their homes and their jobs, leaving them unable to rebuild or pay for housing. The vast majority of citizens have been denied assistance by FEMA: one especially impoverished town has had a 100% denial rate.

FEMA denials have largely been supported by reasons such as lack of proof of ownership, insufficient damage, or continued inhabitance. These reasons for denial carry no weight. FEMA requirements for proof of ownership are very low and can be met by a sworn affidavit. Claims of insufficient damage are false and cannot be proven as many of the adjusters never set foot in or around the houses they’ve issued denials for. And denials due to continued inhabitance are cruel and improper. These people aren’t living in these broken and dangerous houses because they want to, or because the damage isn’t severe enough to warrant moving; they are living in these houses because they have no other choice.

These citizens have the option to appeal FEMA’s denials, an option that will hopefully allow them to obtain the assistance they need and deserve. You can help this happen by donating to our local community partner organization who is working on the ground on the Island, Ayuda Legal Huracán María, and by supporting continuing efforts by the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic of the University at Buffalo School of Law, #UBLawResponds.

Ventanas Rotas: Importing Broken Policies

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

As Puerto Rico enters its 4th month without fully reinstated power and water, crime rates have begun to soar, but the response to this reality from the government is counterintuitive at best. According to The New York Times, January 16, 2018 article, the local authorities have embraced Rudy Giuliani’s defunct “Broken Windows” policy to combat the recent influx of general crime, as well as the drastic swell in homicides. The policy purports to create a general environment of law and order by cracking down on small public crimes. Not only have critics recognized this policy as ineffective, racist, and harmful since its employ in the 80’s, there are clear signs it won’t work on the Island of Puerto Rico.

First, the police throughout Puerto Rico are on strike! How do authorities plan to increase the number of citations and arrests when 2,000 of the island’s 13,600 officers are calling out sick each day in protest? Officers are striking because they have yet to be paid for the many additional hours they put in during recovery from Irma and now María. But the failure to pay stems from the larger issue of the island’s $74 billion debt crisis – something they arguably cannot escape while trapped by PROMESA – the U.S. Federal law which created an oversight board tasked with restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt – and a general lack of independence.

Second, Puerto Rico’s economic crisis is well documented; however, the hurricane has exacerbated the issue by claiming many citizens’ jobs. Unemployment claims are mounting as employers close or downsize, and traveling to work has become more difficult for many people. People without jobs still need food for their families, gas for their generators, and funds for other basic needs, such as housing and medical attention. There has been a simultaneous uptick in robberies, theft, and car break-ins. However, I see many of these crimes as a symptom of the failing federal benefits programs and Federal aid through FEMA to help victims, not an indication of the failing morality of the Puerto Rican People.

Puerto Rico has struggled with high crime rates for most of its developed years, and I find the general response has been to blame the people and culture, when in reality, it is attributable to the stifling effects of systematic oppression. So, to see the local authorities on the island work in conjunction with federal forces to tackle this issue by attacking poorer communities – as the Broken Windows Policy inescapably does – is truly frustrating. The tactic operates within the same broken colonial mindset, by blaming the problem on the underrepresented and powerless in order to distract from the true origin of the issue – the parasitic colonizer.

When citizens have good options for employment, combined with opportunities to enrich their own communities, crime becomes a less attractive avenue for obtaining basic needs. Puerto Ricans do not need the U.S.’s recycled discriminatory tactics of oppression. What they do need should be up to them. I believe it is time to acknowledge the relationship between crime and a lack of autonomy; and, as I visit the island, I am looking forward to learning more about the Boricua point of view on the issue from the people themselves.

I volunteered to come to Puerto Rico with the #UBLawResponds Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic of the University at Buffalo School of Law because I wanted to show my solidarity with the people, and to encourage a healthier relationship with the Island in my generation. I believe that with good policy and grassroots movements Puerto Rico can thrive through its resilience.

 

Checking in with #UBLawResponds Student Attorneys at the Halfway Mark…

Rainbow1

The Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic has reached the halfway point of our January 2018 service learning trip to the Island. In keeping with best practices for clinical legal education, #UBLawResponds students have been engaging in regular reflections throughout our classwork and our fieldwork. Today, we did a quick reflective check-in. Students offered one word that summarized one of their feelings in light of their work on our legal and humanitarian “brigades” over the past few days. Below is a compilation, in no particular order, of some of the words they offered.

  • Humbled
  • Helpless
  • Wholesome
  • Touched
  • Exhausted
  • Incomplete
  • Relaxed
  • Okay
  • Inspired
  • Connected
  • Frantic
  • Comradery
  • Conflicted
  • Undeserving
  • Frantic
  • Meaningful
  • Honored

I wish those of you reading this blog on the mainland could see how hard the #UBLawResponds students are working, how seriously they are taking this service, and how much these future lawyers are recognizing the unique opportunity they are experiencing. The generosity of the many donors who have made this service possible is much appreciated by our entire team. You can help #UBLawResponds work continue beyond the next week by donating here.

How will I make money? Common employment concerns after Hurricane Maria

PastedGraphic-1Am I safe? Are my family members safe? What do I do if I am injured? These are the immediate concerns of most people living through a disaster. For the first few days, these are the questions on an individual’s mind. However, people are quickly forced to think ahead, to think about the future. Is my workplace still open? How will I get to work? Do I still have health insurance?

It is vital that workers understand their rights immediately following a disaster like Hurricane Maria. Here is some basic information to assist employees. Please be aware that this is not an exhaustive list.

Unemployment

You can receive monetary assistance if you are unemployed because of circumstances beyond your control, and if you are not terminated because of misconduct. This includes if your employer is forced to close during a natural disaster. As a general rule, employees must have worked six months in the past year to receive unemployment.

Individuals seeking unemployment must provide their social security number, contact information for employers from the past 18 months, and proof they are unemployed through no fault of their own. Be sure to contact your local social services office for more localized information. Information specific to Puerto Rico can be found here [http://www.trabajo.pr.gov/det_content.asp?cn_id=24].

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

DUA is a program funded by FEMA. DUA is monetary assistance to individuals unemployed as a direct result of a major disaster. DUA is only available to people who are NOT covered by regular unemployment assistance.

DUA is available to people who are self-employed, people injured because of the disaster, people who became the head of a household because their family member died in the disaster, and people otherwise prevented from working because of a disaster. It is ESSENTIAL that the individual be unable to work as a direct result of the disaster. If your car dies a week after a hurricane because it is old, then you cannot get DUA!

DUA is only available for a limited time. Speak to a FEMA worker if you believe you qualify! More in-depth information can be found here [https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/10/25/4339/fact-sheet-survivors-may-be-eligible-disaster-unemployment-assistance].

Health insurance

Millions of Americans have health insurance through their employer, and during a natural disaster this coverage can be life-saving. What happens if the employer is closed because of a disaster?

If you are enrolled in your employer’s healthcare plan, then you are still covered by the plan even if you cannot physically get to work. Employers are allowed to cancel their healthcare plans, but the plan is not automatically cancelled because the employer is temporarily closed.

An employer may still require an employee to pay premiums and deductibles. Procedures for making these payment may be found in the Summary Description Plan (SDP). This is a booklet or pamphlet provided by the employer when employees enroll in their plan. This SDP will also have the contact info for the Plan Administrator. Employees should contact the Administer to get updates on their plan.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Many buildings are damaged or destroyed after a natural disaster. What happens if your place of work is unsafe?

OSHA sets certain standards for employers to make sure their employees are safe at work. Employers may not force their employees to work in dangerous condition. This is true even in the wake of a natural disaster! If your employer requires you work in unsafe conditions, then they are violating the law. Please contact your local OSHA office if you are concerned about your working conditions. More information about OSHA in Puerto Rico can be found at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/stateprogs/puerto_rico.html

These are some of the most basic rights that employees retain even following a natural disaster like the residents of Puerto Rico endured from Hurricane Maria. I hope this post reflecting some of my research performed as a Student Attorney in the #UBLawResponds Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic provided some knowledge to anyone living through a disaster. Employees must be even more mindful of their rights in times of chaos.

Love The Culture and The People

1280px-Map_of_the_78_municipalities_of_Puerto_Rico

Growing up as a woman of Puerto Rican descent, I experienced firsthand the fascination with the Puerto Rican mystique on behalf of non-Puerto Ricans. From comments about the desirable appearance of Puerto Ricans to assumptions about expert dancing skills, there is an immediate and persistent intrigue when Puerto Ricans makes their ethnicity known.

However, I have come to learn that embracing a culture does not equate to embracing the people of that culture. The view of Puerto Ricans being exotic can be a harmless manifestation of intrigue, but it is also a manifestation of the way United States mainlanders often view Puerto Ricans: as outsiders. This view is evinced in many of the United States Federal government’s policies pertaining to Puerto Rico.

I wrote the poem that appears below, entitled “Why Don’t You Love Me?,” as I was preparing to travel to the Island as a #UBLawResponds student attorney in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. The poem speaks to the long, unique relationship between the United States Mainland and Puerto Rico, a relationship marked with both adulation and indifference.

Why Don’t You Love Me?

I’m everywhere                       

And nowhere at the same time

I’m exotic, I’m “spicy,” I’m cool

Mesmerized by me

Like Ali by Iris

So why don’t you love me?

I toiled for hundreds of years

Your hands manipulating me

I let you inject me, radiate me

Use me and disregard me

I let you murder my insurrection

And suppress my hope

I did everything you asked of me

So why don’t you love me?

However, in Puerto Rico…A Discussion on Anti-Poverty Program Disparities

IMG_0740 (1)

When a natural disaster strikes, U.S. citizens often rely upon FEMA to respond. But when FEMA benefits end, people are still left to pick up the pieces of their former lives. Those who were once secure financially now struggle, and those who were impoverished experience complete and total devastation. Anti-poverty programs play an important role in disaster recovery. Though imagine what would happen if the programs were unable to provide for all the people in need, or what if they did not exist at all… Puerto Ricans don’t have to imagine this scenario, because they are already living it.

Before Hurricane Maria hit, Puerto Rico was already experiencing high levels of poverty, with 43.5% of people living in poverty[1], compared to the national average of 12.7%[2]. While many factors contribute to the number, Puerto Rico’s anti-poverty programs do very little to help reduce it. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, whether they live in the 50 states or in Puerto Rico[3], and as such, are entitled to receive all of the benefits and privileges granted to citizens. Yet, the law treats citizens living in Puerto Rico vastly different from how they would be treated on the mainland.

For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays an important role in providing funds to purchase food, and in a disaster, can also help to replace food that was lost. SNAP is an entitlement program for most, meaning anyone qualified can receive benefits, which allows the program to respond to economic need[4]. However, in Puerto Rico, SNAP does not exist. It is replaced by a block grant program, which means that with limited funds, participation and payments are restricted, and the program has no ability to adapt to economic changes[5]. Puerto Rico also can not access disaster funds related to nutrition assistance without a special designation[6].

Unlike SNAP, programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Child Nutrition Programs that exist on the mainland are present in Puerto Rico. However, in Puerto Rico TANF mainly provides support for individuals with disabilities, who make up 80% of participants[7]. This is a stark contrast to the mainland, where 90% of TANF supports single mothers living in poverty[8]. While the participation in Puerto Rico may be influenced in part by the stigma of welfare, the absence of Supplemental Security Income in Puerto Rico likely plays the larger role.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the federal program that provides direct assistance to low-income elderly and disabled individuals. However, in Puerto Rico, like SNAP this program does not exist, and has been replaced by a limited grant[9].  Before the hurricane, this limited program assisted approximately 36,000 people, who received a monthly benefit of around $75[10]. In contrast, if Puerto Ricans could access SSI, an estimated 300,000-350,000 people would be eligible for an average monthly benefit of $540[11].

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is known as the being the most effective anti-poverty program to date, and is an effective tool for stimulating the economy by increasing the workforce and raising the working poor out of poverty. However, in Puerto Rico, like SNAP and SSI, the EITC does not exist. The EITC creates incentives for people to enter the workforce, which is critical for Puerto Rico, as less than half of Puerto Rico’s people are in the workforce, with many participating in the informal economy[12]. It is also important to note that while the Child Tax Credit does exist in Puerto Rico, it only applies to families with more than three children[13].

This comparison of programs is intended to shed light on the disparities between the anti-poverty programs in the states and Puerto Rico, and provide insight into the difficulties facing Puerto Ricans before the hurricane hit. This issue will not go away anytime soon, and while my future posts will focus on implications and solutions, low-income and impoverished Puerto Ricans need our help now. I hope that you will consider donating to #UBLawResponds so that we can provide essential goods to the Puerto Ricans we serve through our work on the island.

My next related blog will delve into the implications of the limited nature of Puerto Rico’s programs, like how a simple change of address can bring a low-income family out of extreme poverty. But tonight I must sleep, because tomorrow we are heading out to finally begin the fieldwork component of our course!

[1] United States Census Bureau, Quick Facts: Puerto Rico, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/PR

[2] United States Census Bureau, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016, September 12, 2017, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-259.html

[3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, INA: Act 302 – Persons Born In Puerto Rico, https://www.uscis.gov/ilink/docView/SLB/HTML/SLB/0-0-0-1/0-0-0-29/0-0-0-9711.html

[4] Elizabeth Wolkomir, “How Is Food Assistance Different in Puerto Rico Than in the Rest of the United States?,” November 2017, https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/how-is-food-assistance-different-in-puerto-rico-than-in-the-rest-of-the

[5] Id.

[6] 42 U.S.C.A. § 5179.

[7] The University of Texas at Austin: Child and Family Research Institute, Supporting Children and Families: TANF and Head Start in Puerto Rico, http://www.metro.inter.edu/hsrppr/doc/Supporting%20children%20and%20families.pdf

[8] Id.

[9] U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, “Appendix B: Social Welfare Programs in the Territories,” https://greenbook-waysandmeans.house.gov/2012-green-book/appendix-b-social-welfare-programs-in-the-territories

[10] Robin Rudowitz, “Navigating Recovery: Health Care Financing and Delivery Systems in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands,” December 2017, https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/navigating-recovery-health-care-financing-and-delivery-systems-in-puerto-rico-and-us-virgin-islands/

[11] Id.

[12] Center for Puerto Rican Studies, “Welfare Reform and the EITC: Economic Development Recommendations by the Oversight Board,” https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/events-news/puerto-rico-news/economic-development/welfare-reform-and-eitc-economic-development

[13] Richard V. Reeves and Katherine Guyot, “Keeping our PROMESA: What the U.S. can do about Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis,” https://www.brookings.edu/research/keeping-our-promesa-what-the-u-s-can-do-about-puerto-ricos-fiscal-crisis/