Sydney Maki

Friday, April 13, 2018

Puerto Rican retirees face uncertainty on pension cuts after Hurricane Maria

PONCE, Puerto Rico — In the yellow and orange house where 78-year-old Lucrecia Rivera has lived for half a century, she explains her income by adding and subtracting on the day’s newspaper.

There’s $1,038 deposited automatically into her banking account every month from the Puerto Rican government, plus a $100 health care bonus. She subtracts for medical costs; she talks about how expensive groceries are on an island that imports most of its food; and she points toward her leaky roof, which got worse after Hurricane Maria.

“We have to establish priorities,” she said, sitting in her Ponce home. “For us, the roof is really a need. So I need to leave other things aside. My situation is not mine only. … It is the quality of life that has been affected.”

Rivera taught and supervised in public schools for 32 years before retiring in 1996. She is one of about 168,000 retirees and beneficiaries in Puerto Rico’s main government retirement systems, which are running out of money.

As Puerto Rico grapples with crushing debts, a struggling economy and a growing exodus of residents to the mainland U.S., Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016, is pushing to cut government retiree benefits by an average of 10 percent.