In the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma, 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s electric grid is down. A public health crisis is underway, and the 3.4 million US citizens living on the island need federal assistance. But the road to recovery is long, due in part to the unique relationship the territory has to the mainland.
Puerto Rico’s economy was once based on investments from US firms that enjoyed privileged tax status. In 1993, Congress voted to end those tax breaks. When they expired in 2006, the Puerto Rican economy stopped growing and began suffering from a recession.
At that time, Puerto Ricans began to leave the island for the US mainland. This created even more downward pressure on the economy — fewer people meant lower tax revenues for government. Funding for the maintenance of public utilities dwindled. And the devastation caused by the hurricanes in 2017 had a severe impact on the electrical grid because the public utilities were already in disrepair.
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