DURING HIS visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, President Trump hailed the low number of people killed. "Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands," he said with some relief about the official death toll, a number that has since been raised to 64 . It is now becoming increasingly clear, though, that those numbers are inaccurate. Far more people died as a result of the storm, and others remain imperiled by life-threatening conditions as Puerto Rico still struggles to recover from back-to-back storms that hit three months ago.
The island — home to more than 3 million Americans — needs all the help it can get. But the bad situation there threatens to get even worse if Republican lawmakers persist with a tax-reform bill that would devastate Puerto Rico’s economy with crippling new taxes.
The magnitude of the damage suffered by Puerto Rico was underscored with a report from the New York Times that called into question the official death count from Hurricane Maria. Data analysis by the newspaper found that 1,052 more people than usual died on the island during the 42 days after Maria made landfall on Sept. 20. People suffering from certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, died at higher rates, and there was a surge in deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection. Delayed medical treatment and poor conditions in homes and hospitals — notably lack of power or access to safe drinking water — are suspected as playing a role. While there has been some progress, conditions are still grim.
Only 64 percent of the power grid has been restored. The human impact of that statistic was poignantly detailed by "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in a Post op-ed, which describes his uncle going 85 days without being able to turn on a light, stock a refrigerator or take a hot shower. Times reporter Sheri Fink visited a senior-citizen complex without power where vulnerable residents have fallen in the dark, medications are missed and special diets go by the wayside. Such situations would not be tolerated in any mainland American city or state.
The disgraceful treatment of Puerto Rico as an afterthought is evident in tax measures being proposed by the GOP in its overhaul of the tax code. Both House and Senate bills would impose new taxes on U.S. companies with operations in Puerto Rico, lumping the U.S. territory into the same category as foreign countries. The supposed goal is to protect and create American jobs, but, as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello told us, it would actually kill American jobs in Puerto Rico, devastating an already struggling economy. "Unconscionable," he said of the proposals, pointing out how members of Congress have traveled to Puerto Rico, seen the catastrophic damage and promised help. "True hypocrisy," he said.
Full details of final legislation being worked out by House and Senate negotiators have yet to be released, so it’s unclear how the residents of Puerto Rico will be treated. Here’s an idea: How about treating them like the Americans they are? Drop these unfair taxes and, while Congress is at it, approve the federal aid needed to get Puerto Rico on its feet.
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