National Convening in Florida for a National Puerto Rican Agenda

By the “Unidos por Puerto Rico” Coalition
The coalition “Unidos Por Puerto Rico De Florida,” in conjunction with leaders of the stateside Puerto Rican community are calling for a national convening in Orlando, Florida on October 13-14, 2015 to develop a National Puerto Rican Agenda in support of Puerto Rico and stateside Puerto Ricans. This national gathering will bring together government and civic leaders from Florida and throughout the US, as well as the Island, who lead Puerto Rican movements and networks aimed at providing solutions for the current crisis issues in Puerto Rico and in the US.
The objective of the National Convening is to create a comprehensive National Puerto Rican Agenda which encompasses the problems affecting Puerto Ricans both in the island and in the U.S. The Florida event will focus on the crisis in Puerto Rico. Currently, there are multiple ongoing local initiatives in the United States calling for and in support of Congressional and Presidential action to solve the fiscal and economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
The emergent national coalition will discuss the issues of the Fiscal Crisis, Health Care Crisis, Climate Change and Infrastructure Support, and Human Rights and Civic Engagement, all critical to the revitalization of Puerto Rico. A National Puerto Rican Agenda will serve as a guide for Puerto Ricans interested in taking an active role in the solutions and for elected officials advocating for the interests of Puerto Rico and the Diaspora.
“Unidos Por Puerto Rico,” is the organizing committee which encompasses a broad coalition of Central Florida groups that includes Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña, Hispanic Federation, Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, PRFAA, Asociación de Puertorriqueños Viviendo en la Florida, and other leaders. Acacia’s El Centro Borinqueño (formerly Asociación Borinqueña) will host the event. Support groups for “Unidos Por Puerto Rico” have been formed in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Orlando and New Jersey, though it is expected that delegates from other states will join the event.
The program starts with a Welcome Reception on Tuesday evening (6pm-9pm), where representatives from the local “Unidos Por Puerto Rico” will discuss the impact of the current migratory wave from Puerto Rico is having in the region, the political and social challenges facing the community, and the multiple ongoing initiatives addressing these problems. On Wednesday the program begins with a Congressional Briefing Panel, where Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) will discuss pending legislation in Congress and other ongoing national initiatives.
After the Congressional Briefing Panel concludes, the deliberations proceed in breakout sessions as follows. The expected outcome of these breakout sessions is the action agenda for each of the topics.
Topic 1. – Fiscal Crisis
Anchor: Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida
Puerto Rico is in a prolonged recession that has resulted in massive migration to the U.S. and declining population on the island, as well as crushing debt obligations. These factors in turn have resulted in a sizeable decline in tax revenues and wide-ranging austerity measures. Currently, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico has remained over 11%, and the poverty rate is about 45%; both indicators are substantially higher than any state.
Any understanding of the structural factors contributing to the current economic crisis in Puerto Rico must fully consider its territorial status.  As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico’s currency and monetary policy, commerce, taxes and other key economic and legal areas are ruled by federal law, in a fashion similar to any other state. The Commonwealth government lacks authority to regulate important economic areas as an independent nation would, such as: manipulation of its currency to satisfy debt obligations, or the transport of products to its ports. Congressional and Presidential action is required to overcome the economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
The discussion of this session will focus deliberations on:
  • Puerto Rico’s territory status places all responsibility in establishing an orderly legal process for the restructuring of the debt on the U.S. authorities. An orderly bilateral resolution of the crisis between debtors and creditors is unlikely and will only come at an unacceptably high human costs. We shall recognize the gravity of the situation, the threat to the lives and welfare of millions of Puerto Ricans, and support an urgent call for action from the American people.
  • An urgent call upon the United States Congress to pass and the President to sign legislation allowing an economic hardship exemption for Puerto Rico from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the “Jones Act.” The goal is to allow vessels built outside of the United States to transport energy supplies, among other bulk cargo, between ports in Puerto Rico and other ports in the United States. We should all recognize the gravity of the situation and that the increase in qualified cargo vessels would lower energy costs and support the economic recovery of Puerto Rico.
Topic 2. – Health Care Crisis
Anchor: Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña
Puerto Ricans pay the same Medicare taxes as other Americans, yet the federal contribution to territories are capped at 50 percent. Reimbursement to the poorest states is as high as 83 percent, while only the wealthiest states receive 50 percent reimbursement. Considering that “up to 60 percent of the Island’s population receives their health care through Medicare, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid,” Puerto Rico would be among the states with the higher reimbursements if not for the 50 percent cap to territories. This disparity in treatment represent billions of dollars annually for the provision of health services to poor Americans who are Puerto Rico residents.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted by Congress in 2010, provided $6.4 billion to close the disparity in funding to Puerto Rico. Though an improvement when compared to prior transfers to territories, this temporary measures expires in Fiscal Year 2019. ACA funding provides $1.1 to $1.3 billion a year in federal Medicaid funding.  When this provision expires and the territories receive Medicaid funds under the old formula, Puerto Rico will receive less than $400 million a year. In reality, Puerto Rico will run out of funding as early as late 2016 or early 2017. This situation is known in the media as the “Medicare/Medicaid cliff.” Hundreds of thousands of poor families in Puerto Rico will be affected, losing benefits and paying higher premiums. Giving the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico, it is difficult to foresee that any local public program could mitigate the impact of the upcoming crisis.
The discussion of this session will focus deliberations on:
  • A call upon the United States Congress and the President to improve the treatment of the United States territories under the Medicare and Medicaid programs and to treat territories as any other state removing the 50 percent cap. American citizens paying similar Medicaid and Medicare taxes as other Americans should not be treated differently because they are residents in a U.S. territory. We should all recognize the gravity of the situation and the threat of the Medicaid/Medicare “cliff” to the lives and welfare of millions of Puerto Ricans, and supports an urgent call for action from the American people.
 Topic 3. – Human Rights and Civic Engagement
Anchor: Latino Justice PRLDEF
The main goal of this session is the development of an agenda to empower Puerto Ricans to fully participate in the civic life of the nation and the island and to take concrete steps to lower political and other barriers that impede reconciliation among ourselves and with others, whether these barriers are based on race or ethnicity, economic status, gender, age, sexual preference, physical condition, religious or non-religious beliefs, or immigration status.
The discussion of this session will focus deliberations on:
Initiatives to vigorously advocate for urgent civil and human rights issues that promote national reconciliation as is the case of Oscar López Rivera, who has become an emblematic figure of Puerto Rican unity across, party, religious and civil society lines.
Topic 4. – Climate Change and Infrastructure Support
Anchor: El Puente
This session will start with a discussion of climate change on how our communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. are affected.
The discussion of this session will focus deliberations on:
  • Federal support needed to dredge the Caño Martín Peña.
  • Increase funding to speed up the clean-up efforts in Vieques and Culebra.
 Topic 5. – State and Local Political Strategy
Elected officials only, closed door meeting.
This session will discuss initiatives responding to the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico in several cities and states to help the island.
The discussion of this session will focus deliberations on:
  • Support local initiatives and legislation calling upon the United States Congress and the President to enact and make available to Puerto Rico bankruptcy processes common under federal law, to make improvements to the treatment of the United States territories under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and to allow an economic hardship exemption for Puerto Rico from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the “Jones Act.”
Besides the development of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, an important goal of the National Convening is to create a broad national coalition to provide continuity to our efforts, and to unify local efforts into a broader national agenda. In that regard, the coalition “Unidos Por Puerto Rico” of Florida and other organizers of the event encourage Puerto Ricans in other states to create similar regional coalitions to continue our efforts to unite our community for a common goal-Por Puerto Rico.
If you are interested in getting involved with the movement, besides the planning for the Florida event, there is an ongoing petition to President Obama initiated by the Hispanic Federation and a coalition of community leaders entitled Take Action on Puerto Rico Now! The petition urges the “President to call for a full federal agency review of policies that are economically harmful to Puerto Rico, including health care reimbursement, and convene his Working Group on Financial Markets to develop an in-depth debt relief, repayment, and investment plan to stabilize the island’s economy.”
We have until October 10th to get to 100K.  The link is now live:

Taking advantage of the Somos el Futuro Conference in Puerto Rico from November 3rd to the 8th, and considering that Thursday November 5th, The Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition has called for a rally where all elected officials participating in the conference are expected to join, we encourage other local and regional “Unidos Por Puerto Rico” coalitions to send delegates to support the rally and to participate in the deliberations for the creation of a national coalition “Unidos Por Puerto Rico.”

For more information:
Midwest: Cristina Pacione-Zayas ([email protected])
Northeast and Southeast US: Betsy Franceshini ([email protected])
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