What Is Puerto Rico’s Relationship To The U.S.?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Puerto Rico and the United States have had a special relationship since 1898.

That’s when the island was ceded to the U.S. by Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris, the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, which made Puerto Rico a U.S. territory and gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship.

Puerto Ricans have U.S. passports and can travel freely between the island and United States. They pay most federal taxes, like Social Security, Medicare and payroll taxes, but they don’t pay federal income tax.

In 2015, Puerto Rico contributed $3.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

“On the federal income tax exemption, to tax residents of Puerto Rico would be to create a situation of taxation without representation,” says Sarah Chamber, professor of history at the University of Minnesota.

Puerto Rico is not a state, but rather a territory. It cannot enact its own foreign policy, but its people elect their own governor. Puerto Ricans cannot vote in U.S. Federal elections because only states can participate in the Electoral College. They can vote in presidential primaries, because the parties run those elections.

Puerto Rico does send a Resident Commissioner as its representative to the U.S. Congress. She does not have a vote – which is similar to the non-voting delegate from Washington, D.C.

For years, there has been discussion about Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state. In a low turnout vote last year, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood.  The U.S. Congress would have to approve any statehood.

Puerto Rico is entitled to disaster aid from FEMA. According to FEMA, the 1998 Stafford Act requires the governor of an affected state to request the President declare it a major disaster. States include Puerto Rico, District of Columbia, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands.

On Tuesday, President Trump said he would visit Puerto Rico next week. Leaders of Congress also said they were working on a post-hurricane aid package similar to Texas and Florida, but didn’t have details on a timeline.

More from Heather Brown
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