UPDATE 2-U.S. Sen. Hatch says no help for Puerto Rico unless better disclosure

Tue Sep 29, 2015 5:51pm EDT
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By Megan Davies and Jessica DiNapoli

NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Powerful Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch on Tuesday warned there could be no help for Puerto Rico without better financial disclosure, while expressing doubts about extending bankruptcy protection for the indebted island and questioning the idea of imposing a financial control board.

Puerto Rico, in recession for nearly a decade, has grown its debt to $72 billion, while the number of taxpayers shouldering the burden has dwindled, with thousands moving to the U.S. mainland each year.

The U.S. territory defaulted on debt in August by paying only a fraction of what was due on some bonds. The Caribbean island is not a U.S. state but as a U.S. territory its financial stability is a concern for U.S. lawmakers.

A turnaround plan unveiled in September by a working group appointed by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla asked the U.S. government for help, including access to court-sanctioned restructuring laws, an exemption from the Jones Act which protects U.S. shipping, and what it would call equitable treatment under Medicaid and Medicare funding schemes.

"If we don't get really well-audited figures, it's going to be pretty hard to help you," Hatch, a Republican, told the head of the Government Development Bank Melba Acosta, at a hearing on the island's problems. "I don't think Puerto Rico is treated fairly, for the most part. But we need really good information from you in order to help you."

Puerto Rico's last annual financial statement on the GDB's website is for the year ending June 2013. Acosta said while she agreed that the information was "not the best," the territory was making improvements.

"Unless you get that to us, I don't see how we can solve anything," said Hatch. "We ... better have the right tools and information or nothing is going to be done."   Continued...