As Congress debates how to help Puerto Rico with its $70 billion debt, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is trying to prod lawmakers into action with stories of crumbling infrastructure on the island and a lack of basic services.
On a one-day trip to the U.S. territory Monday, Lew toured a San Juan elementary school struggling with insects and limited electricity and a hospital unable to provide some basic services to infants. He walked through a once-vibrant shopping district now covered in graffiti and drove past shuttered stores and restaurants.
“It can only get worse,” Lew told reporters as he toured Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School in San Juan with Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla.
With the strong support of Speaker Paul Ryan, House Republicans are expected to announce new legislation this week to create a control board to help manage the island’s financial obligations and oversee some debt restructuring. It would be the third draft of the House bill, which has come under fire from some conservatives who worry it would set a precedent for financially ailing states.
At a brief news conference after a private tour of San Juan’s Centro Medico hospital, Lew said Puerto Rico’s problems were a human crisis as well as financial. He said infants who needed dialysis were unable to get it while children could only get cancer medicine if it were paid for in advance with cash.