Recently, nearly 100 people gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for a first-of-its-kind information session on the long-term economic recovery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This session — jointly hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Hispanics in Philanthropy — focused on philanthropic opportunities to assist Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition to providing an update on the local economies of the region, the session addressed the issue of past philanthropic neglect and disinvestment in the regions that has taken place over decades. As one of the panelists explained, “Hurricane Maria did not cause the islands problems, it simply revealed them.”
The humanitarian crisis — which is still actively impacting the lives of millions of U.S. citizens — was caused by a natural disaster, layered upon an economic disaster, and made even worse by a wholly inadequate federal government response. Yet, with all of the hardship and system failures these hurricanes caused, they also revealed something else: the strength, ingenuity, and resilience of the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The expert panels at the event consisted of foundation leaders, local stakeholders, and economists from the Federal Reserve System. The panelists discussed conditions currently on the ground and the developing partnerships between philanthropic entities and banks to help restart the economies of the U.S. territories. One of the most important outcomes of the meeting was the ability to gather entities that would normally not have a common convening space. Although both legacy foundations and bank foundations work in the community development space, they rarely get the opportunity to focus so specifically around philanthropic investments in one particular region or community.
Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Jack Gutt, discussed the opportunities and tangible tools that we now have to help deliver much-needed capital to the islands. One such tool is the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and recently released guidelines that allow banks, located anywhere in the country, to receive favorable consideration for investing in community development activities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or to assist people displaced by the hurricanes.
The call to action from Hispanics in Philanthropy president and CEO, Ana Marie Argilagos, was the need to “do more.” She cited Foundation Center statistics from 2017 that corporate and foundation support of Puerto Rico was $62 million after Hurricane Maria compared to $341 million for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and $128 million for Florida after Hurricane Irma.
Ms. Argilagos reviewed past philanthropic investments and the picture was even bleaker. In 2015, Puerto Rico received less than $5 million in philanthropic dollars for the entire island, a minuscule figure when compared to investments made even to cities in the U.S. She compared the $5 million philanthropic award Puerto Rico received in 2015 to investments made in economically distressed cities like Detroit, which received $177 million in 2015; Memphis, $259 million; Buffalo NY, $94 million; and even Fresno, $19 million. Ms. Argilagos focused the audience on the islands’ current needs for resources, capital, and expertise to invest in hyper-local infrastructure. She called on U.S. donors to step up and do their part. “Now is the time for philanthropy to prove we have will and the capacity to act, before it’s too late,” Ms. Argilagos added.
To learn more about this event, please visit the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s information page.