Coping with a 12 percent unemployment rate and a harsh fiscal plan already in place, Puerto Ricans on the island are bracing for further impacts on their quality of life if President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts are implemented.
El Nuevo Día, one of Puerto Rico's leading newspapers calls the likely effects of the budget cuts "devastating" in an editorial published March 18.
"The presidential proposal eliminates the entire Legal Services Corporation budget which would exterminate Puerto Rico Legal Services," the editorial reads. The impact environmental protections, it adds, would be substantial, and it estimates that about half of the funding used to provide health care for 1.5 million people would be lost through the cuts.
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Even before the president's budget proposal, the population of the island had been reeling from financial crisis, stringent fiscal oversight and austerity measures that have recently forced the government to slash $300 million from the public university's budget and other drastic cuts to address a $70 billion public debt.
"The austerity measures imposed by the oversight board and the Governor are unrealistic, as years of cuts have gutted essential health care and education services and created a mass exodus of over 10,000 Puerto Ricans leaving the island every month," Philadelphia Councilwoman María Quiñones Sánchez told NBC10.
"This crisis was created and worsened by years of bad U.S. tax policy, and if we do not help Puerto Rico recover now, thousands more will end up in our cities requiring even more assistance at a time of serious uncertainty in our federal government," she said.
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of the 50,000 Puerto Ricans who leave the island for the mainland annually settle in Florida, but Pennsylvania has seen a 33 percent increase in new arrivals since 2005 and ranks second in terms of volume (New York ranks third).
Joanna Otero Cruz, the deputy managing director for Community Services for the city of Philadelphia, said in 2015 that Latino community organizations like Concilio (which she headed at the time) had definitely seen an increase in the number of newly arrived residents. Further, cities like Allentown and Reading have seen rapid increases in Latino populations, thanks to the increased migration from the island. Allentown, the fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania according to the 2010 census, is now about 43 percent Latino, while Reading is 58 percent Latino.
But four out of 10 Latinos in the state live in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to a study by the Century Foundation and the Rutgers Center for Urban Research. In Philadelphia, the poorest zip code is 19133, in the Fairhill section of the city, which is 57 percent Latino (49 percent of that Latino population is Puerto Rican) and has a median income around $14,000. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens whether they are born on the island or the mainland, will thus be impacted by the budget's proposed cuts to the social safety net.