The U.S. House of Representatives passed PROMESA, a bill to help Puerto Rico deal with its recession and its over $70 billion debt, in a landslide vote of 297-to-127. The island has been in financial trouble for some time now, with many of its residents leaving because the situation has gotten so bad. Already, Puerto Rico has defaulted three times in the last year on the debt payments that it owes.
PROMESA would establish an Oversight Board that will regulate the U.S. territory’s finances. The Oversight Board would be able to sell Puerto Rican government assets, let the island reduce the minimum wage for certain workers on a temporary basis, and decide whether to restructure the island’s debt. PROMESA is not a “bailout” of Puerto Rico as no taxpayer money would be used to pay off Puerto Rico’s debt and no federal funds would be committed under the bill.
Congress’s passage of PROMESA comes as the island is encountering new financial problems, including that the Commonwealth owes $2 billion on July 1 of this year. If the U.S. Senate were to pass PROMESA before then, however, Puerto Rico may not have to pay the full amount in July. The bill gives the Commonwealth a grace period through at least February 2017.
Under that “grace period” provision, Puerto Rico would be able to pay just interest on its debts and creditors wouldn’t be allowed to go after the Commonwealth with lawsuits. The grace period would hopefully give the board time to devise a plan.
Even though a solution is clearly needed, there are those who oppose the measure, including some creditors, interest groups, and bondholders. Puerto Rico’s $7 billion debt is held by local residents, financial institutions, U.S. hedge funds, and mutual fund firms, which means that there are investors on the mainland who are also holding Puerto Rico debt.