Puerto Rico’s statehood would boost federal spending on public aid


By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — A new report from the Government Accountability Office confirmed what fiscally conservative critics had assumed: If Puerto Rico becomes a U.S. state, federal spending will soar on public aid like Medicaid, Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SPENDING: A new GAO report shows pending on federal programs will increase around $5 billions, if Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state.

Federal spending would likely increase by at least $5 billion.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said he’s not surprised by the findings.

“Statehood will provide the American citizens in Puerto Rico with full equality and democracy. We do not need a report to reinforce that fact,” he said in a public statement. “The GAO report confirms that statehood will be mutually beneficial for Puerto Rico and the United States as a whole.”

He said equal treatment will improve the quality of life for the people of Puerto Rico and “strengthen our economy” while the federal government benefits from that growth.

But not everyone agrees.

“The report is very complicated (to analyze). The numbers are speculative,” said Maria Acosta Cruz, an associate professor at Clark University and author of “Dream Nation: Puerto Rican Culture & the Fictions of Independence.”

While Cruz agrees that federal assistance payouts would increase, so would corporate taxes, she said. As a result, some businesses will flee the island and “impact the local economy tremendously.”

Nor, Cruz pointed said, does the report take into account Puerto Rico’s public debt.

According to Forbes, that number hovers around $53 billion. Add intergovernmental debt, a grossly underfunded pension and health care obligations, and the figure quickly soars to $160 billion.

To put this into perspective, compare the island’s per-capita income of only $16,560 (in 2010) with Mississippi, one of America’s poorest states, with a per-capita income of $31,186 and public debt of 15.4 billion (this year’s number according to USAspending.com.) That makes Puerto Rico seem like an economic rabbit hole.

What is in the report

The GAO report analyzed 29 federal programs, representing 86 percent of the federal spending.

Examining 201o figures, the office projected that Medicare spending was $4.5 billion, but adding Puerto Rico to the union could push that number closer to $6 billion. Medicaid spending figures from 2011, likely would have gone from $685 million to upwards of $2 billion. SNAP spending from 2011, which was at around $ 1.9 billion, also would have climbed to a number closer to $2.6 billion.

The biggest jump would be seen in the Supplemental Security Income program. Spending in a similar program in 2011 was around $24 billion, but had Puerto Rico been another star on the American flag that number could have reached up to $1.8 billion.

The report also indicates that all sources of federal revenue would also be affected by the change in status. For example, under statehood Puerto Ricans would have to pay federal tax on all their income, and not just that earned outside of Puerto Rico. Even retirement income will change for the islanders, who would likely end up paying more federal income tax.

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter