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Not even a week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the United States, another hurricane is heading our way. Hurricane Irma, one of strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, has already wreaked havoc on several Caribbean islands and is on a path towards the southern U.S. A lot of outlets have focused on the devastation the storm could do to states like Florida and Georgia, but fewer have pointed out that Irma already had an enormous effect on another part of the U.S.: Puerto Rico. As the country gears up to help those in the path of the storm, here are 9 things you should know about this commonwealth south of Florida.
2. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S., but the relationship is … complicated. First and foremost, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They’re also subject to U.S. federal laws, but are exempt from paying some federal taxes and don’t vote in presidential elections. In proportion to its population, Puerto Rico also doesn’t receive as much federal funding on programs like Medicaid as the 50 states.
3. Just a few months ago, the majority of Puerto Ricans voted to become a full U.S. state for the first time.
4. Irma couldn’t have come at a worse time for Puerto Rico. The island filed for bankruptcy in May of this year, following a recession that has been going on since 2006, and is a whopping $123 billion in debt. Trump made his opposition to a bailout for the nation known in April.
5. In May, Puerto Rico announced plans to close 184 public schools before this coming school year — part of an effort to decrease their debt load. These closures will affect an estimated 27,000 students — most in the fourth grade or below — and 2,700 teachers.
6. This financial situation has also led to a “brain drain”: Thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island in recent years to look for opportunities elsewhere. Students have made up about two-thirds of this population decline.
7. Students aren’t the only residents leaving the island: Thousands of professionals ranging from teachers, to healthcare workers, to construction workers have moved in recent years. Entire industries have even left.
8. Puerto Rico’s public power company, which cut back on staff and maintenance amid this economic crisis, warned that Irma’s destruction could result in some areas of the island losing power for four to six months. More than 1 million customers in Puerto Rico had already lost power before the storm hit.
9. There are ways to help Puerto Rico recover from Irma! The humanitarian organization Convoy of Hope is already raising money for those hit by Irma and Puerto Rican New Yorkers have also launched efforts to help the island.Share