Rep AOC and Sen Menendez Draft Bill to Boost Puerto Rico’s Status

Democrats in Congress introduced legislation Thursday to finally start determining Puerto Rico’s future status, including possible statehood. The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021 calls for creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters. The delegates would be responsible for coming up with long-term solutions for the island’s territorial status, be it statehood, independence, a free association, or other options beyond its current territorial arrangement.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who introduced the measure in the Senate, said the delegates would hold formal talks “with a bilateral negotiating commission” of several members of Congress and other federal officials. Options would be “put before the people of Puerto Rico to vote in a federally recognized referendum for the first time,” Menendez said during a news conference.

Image: A woman waves the flag of Puerto Rico during a news conference on Puerto Rican statehood on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2021.

Most Puerto Ricans favor statehood or some form of its current territorial status. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the House version of the bill along with Rep. Nydia Velázquez from New York, said the measure is as much about allowing Puerto Ricans to assert their political identity as it is “about the identity of the United States.”

More than 80 grassroots organizations across 16 states and Puerto Rico urged prioritizing the passage of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020. Puerto Ricans living on the island are U.S. citizens but don’t vote in presidential elections. They don’t pay federal income taxes, because they don’t have voting representation in Congress. But they do pay payroll taxes, helping fund federal programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are often lifelines in a territory where 44 percent of the population lives in poverty. But as a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has unequal access to the programs compared to states.

About 53 percent of Puerto Ricans who voted favored statehood, while 47 percent rejected it. “A colony is incompatible with democracy, it’s incompatible with full citizenship, and we should all be able to enjoy the right to vote for our leaders,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We should all be able to enjoy the right to equal treatment, and self-determination is how we can accomplish that in a process that is respected by all.”

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