On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico (Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud, IDJ), held a briefing entitled A Future of Child Poverty in Puerto Rico: How Much it Costs and What We Can Do About It. Congresswoman, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon [R-PR] explained how alarming the issue of child poverty in Puerto Rico is and the cost on children, their families, and the country.
The briefing was led by the Executive Director of the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, Amanda Rivera Flores. Five speakers spoke to present the issue: Dr. Maria E. Enchautegui Roman, Research Director of the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, Bryan Lee Rosa Rodriquez, Public Policy Manager of the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, Natividad Flores, Puerto Rico community leader, Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus on Children, and Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the Jubilee USA Network.
Amanda Rivera Flores opened the briefing by discussing the importance of addressing the high child poverty rate in Puerto Rico, which is currently at 58 percent compared to the national average of 18 percent. Flores made the point that this issue drastically hinders the children of Puerto Rico from reaching their full potential, “We believe that this is an obstacle for children to achieve the outcomes that they deserve.” Not only is child poverty an issue for Puerto Rican youth, but it is also an issue for Puerto Rico’s economic sustainable development. She closed by ensuring the public of the institute’s persistence on this issue, “As long as a majority of our children are in poverty, we will continue to come back, you will continue to see our faces, we will continue doing briefings until this issue is taken seriously and addressed.”
Following Flores, Dr. Maria E. Enchautegui Roman discussed the statistics regarding child poverty in Puerto Rico and its cost to the children of Puerto Rico and the economy as it relates to health, crime rates, school attainment, and pain and suffering. She makes the point that the children are the “future of Puerto Rico” because these boys and girls are the ones who will build the new Puerto Rico. She went on to paint a picture of what Puerto Rico would be like without child poverty, highlighting the improvements in children’s health, education, and the economy’s productivity levels.
Congresswoman Gonzalez emphasized the importance of finding a solution to the child poverty issue, starting by adjusting the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to include all children in a Puerto Rican Family, not just the third or subsequent child. She stated, “…the Child Tax Credit is a powerful weapon against poverty.” Congresswoman Gonzalez provided that the Center for American Progress research shows that “growing up in poverty introduces stressors to children’s rapidly developing brains that can undermine healthy cognitive and social-emotional development, with differences in children’s cognitive abilities by income appearing as early as nine months old.” She highlighted the importance of addressing and finding a solution to child poverty.
Mr. Rodriquez, addressed the cost of child poverty in Puerto Rico and what we can do to reduce it. He stated that the annual cost of child poverty is 4.4 billion annually, 4.3 percent of the GDP. Mr. Rodriquez focused on explaining the institute’s proposed policy road map to address child poverty. Policies in this road map were organized around four domains, including 1) taxes; 2) economic and work; 3) removing barriers, and; 4) human capital development. Some of the solutions included extending the federal Child Tax Credit, creating a universal child allowance program, and ensuring access to early child development programs.
Natividad Flores, abuela, and community leader told her story of what it was like returning to Puerto Rico to care for her two grandchildren after the death of their father. She discussed the financial burden associated with caring for her grandchildren and the physical and mental toll that it has taken on her and her husband over the years. Flores went on to discuss how the financial burden worsened once her grandson entered college. She allows us to see the consequences of child poverty in Puerto Rico in real-time based on the accounts of her everyday life.
Lesley discussed programs implemented in Canada and New Zealand to reduce child poverty. He also addressed the data problems regarding child poverty in Puerto Rico, the consequences of the daily earthquakes and the hurricane, and the United States’ failure to provide for Puerto Rico as it does other states. He addresses the idea that Puerto Rico and its children are not as valuable as children in other states, making the statements, “We are only giving Puerto Rico a fraction of what they need…a child in Puerto Rico is as valuable as a child in Oklahoma.”
LeCompte discussed solutions for reducing child poverty by developing new debt plans, making economic investments, revising the Child Tax Credit to include Puerto Rico, increasing the Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund, and using the surplus to make investments in Puerto Rico. He spoke in-depth about Puerto Rico’s 72-billion-dollar debt crisis and how it was born on the shoulders of the vulnerable and continues to affect their children today. He spoke on how the current earthquakes, Hurricane Maria, and the Zika outbreak have affected Puerto Rico’s economic prosperity in the last few years; however, child poverty and debt was an issue well before these crises and has only worsened as a result.
Ultimately, this briefing focused on the consequences of child poverty in Puerto Rico and what we can do about it by presenting evidence about the impacts of poverty of Puerto Rican children, quantifying the annual cost of child poverty and developing a road map to significantly reducing poverty in three to ten years. Flores closes with the statement, “Eradicating child poverty is costly, but it costs more to do nothing.”