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In the 1949 amendment of that housing act, a proviso was laid down, under which people could apply for admittance to public housing. It was divided into two categories. First, that they had to have an income under or between certain limits, and, secondly, that they had to come from what is known as substandard housing.
The 1949 act provided that the second section, that is requiring that they come from substandard housing, would not be applicable to veterans for a period of 5 years after March 1, 1949. Of course, that expired this March, March 1, 1954, and I introduced this bill on, I believe it was, February 4, 1954, for the purpose of trying to prevent that from expiring.
The local housing people that I have talked to have told me that this was worked very well, that it has provided needed housing for our veterans, and I think that there is a real need for continuation of it. If it was good law in the first place, it certainly seems to me that it would be good law to extend it for three reasons.
We are having many veterans now who are returning from the Korean conflict who have never had an opportunity to occupy public housing. Another thing, many public housing units-I know one in my own community of Lexington, Ky., is only now being completed-some of the units are even not yet available for occupancy, and veterans have never had an opportunity to apply for admission to those.
Many veterans who are just recently married have never needed a home before, and will be needing those homes, and if the President's program of constructing 35,000 new housing units is carried out, there will be more units that I think should be made available to veterans. I know of no opposition to the bill. I would like to presume on the good nature of the committee by making a couple of suggestions, however. One is that the bill could be handled in the Housing Act which is now before you.
The other is that you could pass the Senate bill, which I referred to, and I believe the latter would be the better procedure, because while it appears that your committee is about ready to report this bill to the House and probably will get rather prompt action on it, we don't know what the situation will be in the Senate and it may be some 3 or 4 months before the bill clears the Senate, if the committee sees fit to include a provision of this kind in the Housing Act.
In the meantime, for those 3 or 4 months, veterans have been stopped from-not stopped from applying, but this waiver has become noneffective as far as they are concerned.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, that is all I have to say about it. I hope the committee will give it earnest consideration. The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. SPENCE. The veteran has been in a peculiar disadvantageous position because of his absence from the country and not being able to make any provision for housing, isn't that true?
Mr. WATTS. That is true, and too many housing units are just now being completed in many communities.
Mr. KILBURN. Is this public housing?
Mr. WATTS. Yes, sir.
Mr. MULTER. Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Multer.
Mr. MULTER. What you are seeking to do here is to continue the provision in existing law with reference to whatever public housing has been built or may be built?
Mr. WATTS. That is right. I am trying to renew it. It has expired. It expired March 1, and at the present time is not operative, and the local managers tell me that they have received instruction from the housing officials in Washington to no longer honor that provision.
Mr. MULTER. Congressman, did I understand you to approve the President's suggestion that we build at least 35,000 new public housing units each year for the next 4 years?
Mr. WATTS. Yes, sir; I do.
Mr. MULTER. Do you realize that in this bill we have no provision for public housing at all, as of this moment?
Mr. WATTS. Well I haven't made a comprehensive study of your bill, as the members of your committee have.
Mr. MULTER. I think the committee will agree that there is, as of now, nothing in this bill calling for any additional public housing, and I don't know whether you were in the committee room this morning when I said that the off-the-record opinion as of yesterday was that the Appropriations Committee would appropriate no money for new public housing starts. So if your area needs it, and you think the country needs it, I suggest you go to work on the Appropriations Committee.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there further questions? If not, thank
you, sir. The CHAIRMAN. We have the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Mr. Fernós-Isern.
Commissioner, we are very glad to have you proceed.
STATEMENT OF HON. A. FERNÓS-ISERN, RESIDENT COMMISSIONER OF PUERTO RICO
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. Mr. Chairman, in the first place I thank the committee for this opportunity to present my views on this bill, really only on one particular aspect of it.
In general, of course, I would say that Puerto Rico is one of the areas where laws like this have shown their worth. The work done in Puerto Rico has been splendid. But I am addressing myself this morning to just one particular aspect of the bill. I refer to H. R. 7839, page 87, where the word "State" is defined, to include the several States, the District of Columbia, and the Territories and possessions of the United States.
Since the 25th of July 1952, Puerto Rico has been organized as a Commonwealth, and there has been a question raised as to whether laws that make reference to Territories and possessions apply or do not apply to Puerto Rico, since the Commonwealth status is recognized as something by itself.
As to laws that were in effect in Puerto Rico before July 25, 1952, I think there would be little question that unless they are inconsistent with the law that created the Commonwealth they would continue to apply. However, that matter has not been solved as yet, and is under study.
As to laws passed after July 25, 1952, the question seems to be much more important. The implication would seem to be that unless the Commonwealth was also included the idea that Territories and possessions only were mentioned might be interpreted as meaning that Puerto Rico was excluded.
This matter also is being studied as to some laws that have been passed, and which carry the language in the way it is in this bill. Therefore, since we are so anxious to make sure that the law would apply to Puerto Rico, I wish to express our interest in having Puerto Rico expressly included.
It has been suggested that, by making some statement in the report, this question could be taken care of. But this would lead into another matter. The implication then might be that Commonwealth is no different from Territory and possession. This would have, I think, a bad effect in many ways-psychologically, it would have a bad effect in Puerto Rico, and it might have in other directions.
I wish to state to the committee that last fall I was honored by being appointed as alternate delegate to the U. N. to take up the question of the change of status in Puerto Rico, and we had some debates there in the various bodies of the U. N., until the matter came up to the General Assembly, and as a result of our efforts there the General Assembly passed a very complimentary resolution to the United States for the good work done in Puerto Rico, full recognition of the fact that Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth and has self-government, so that it is not included any more in the Territories and possessions, which are subject to report to the U. N. by the United States under the charter.
So I believe that it is in the public interest that this recognition of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico could be made whenever possible, so that we may give full credit to the United States for the good deeds that it has always done for Puerto Rico.
I would also state that there are some that still find fault with the present status of Puerto Rico, and one of their arguments is that the Commonwealth status is nothing else but a disguised status of colonial
I want also to add a few words of thanks to the distinguished member of this committee who brought this matter to my attention, and who has given a great deal of thought and time to this matter, Mr. O'Hara.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Commissioner.
I don't think there is any question but what it is intended to include Puerto Rico. Have you given consideration to the introduction of legislation which would remove this doubt with respect to the status of Puerto Rico in all acts which have heretofore covered Puerto Rico. in those acts as possessions?
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman. I am working on a bill that would take care of laws enacted before 1952, and laws enacted from 1952 to the time this act might be enacted, clarifying the application of laws that didn't carry the word "Commonwealth.'
The CHAIRMAN. I think we can cover it in some way.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. But I would add that-while this act, if it passes-it might be very wise not to let one bill so important as this be open to any question.
Mr. MERRILL. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MERRILL. As I understand it, you have a double purpose here, though, in appearing before the committee. You do want the Commonwealth of Puerto to receive the benefits of the act. That is one thing.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. Yes, sir.
Mr. MERRILL. But the other thing that you would like to get established in all congressional acts is this: That Puerto Rico no longer wants to be referred to and thought of in terms of either a Territory or a possession. That is, in gaining the advantages of the act by being included in the word "possessions" you feel that you would be depriving Puerto Rico of a certain status before the world in having to accept that particuular nomenclature as describing its status now that you have achieved Commonwealth status. Am I right in that?
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. You are right, sir. I would say that I would rather try to prevent the implication that recognition is not being given, as it is being otherwise given, to the status of Puerto Rico, by classifying it as a Territory or possession in any given law.
I might add, if I may, that right now in the Senate there is a debate. on the statehood bills for Hawaii and Alaska, and time and again question of Commonwealth status has come up, and, generally, it is being recognized in the debate that Commonwealth status is something different from Territorial possession. So it is being widely recognized.
Mr. MERRILL. The point I am trying to make is that you cannot achieve the purpose that you are seeking merely by being assured that the language we now have in the bill will give you the coverage of the act. That doesn't achieve your purpose.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. Not completely.
Mr. MERRILL. If the purpose of this Nation is to be served in having given to Puerto Rico Commonwealth status, then we as a Congress are going to have to recognize from time to time that there is a distinct difference between Commonwealth status and being a Territory or possession.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. At least not do anything that might indicate that Congress does not recognize it.
Mr. MERRILL. Well, you really believe that you have been elevated, as a governmental unit-your status has been improved, both for yourselves and in the eyes of the world, by having been made a Commonwealth rather than remaining a possession or Territory?
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. Absolutely, without any question.
Mr. MERRILL. And we can achieve the maximum effect of our action, both for your nation and for America, by making clear in every action of the Congress that this new status which you have is something distinct and apart and above a possession or Territory; isn't that right? Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. That is correct. I would only add that we are American citizens ourselves.
Mr. MERRILL. Oh, yes; that is right.
Now, I see the point that you have in mind, and I am very much in sympathy with it. There is no use going through the business of creating a Commonwealth if we are then going to say that, really, by all legislation that Congress passes, oh, yes, it is a Commonwealth
in name, but a Commonwealth is nothing more than a Territory or possession. If we do that, we have defeated the whole purpose of creating the Commonwealth.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. I agree with you.
Mr. MERRILL. And we certainly don't want to do that, because we take pride in what we have done. So I am in sympathy with that whole thing. I think we should establish the fact that Territories and possessions do not mean Commonwealth, because Commonwealth is a step upward, I may say, in the dignity of a political unit.
But are you willing, then, in order to achieve this psychological effect, which I deem to be most important, are you willing to have established, for all time in the future, that when they use the words "territory and possessions," you are excluded, so that you will be compelled from now on and forever to fight the battle and make sure that the extra words "and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" are included in every bill? Because once we do make a distinction, which I think should be made if we are to achieve the aims in creating the Commonwealth, once we establish the distinction your office is going to have the burden from now on to make sure that the words "and Puerto Rico" are in every bill.
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. I think we would have to take that risk.
Mr. MERRILL. And you would be willing to assume that risk in order to achieve recognition by Congress that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico cannot be included in the more general term of "territory and possessions"?
Mr. FERNÓS-ISERN. That is correct.
Mr. MERRILL. Thank you.
Mr. O'HARA. Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. O'Hara.
Mr. O'HARA. I take especial interest in this from the fact that Puerto Rico came to us in connection with the Spanish-American War. We have always said that the Spanish-American War was fought and won without any element of national selfishness. Cuba is free, the Philippines are free, and the people of Puerto Rico, of their own free will, as shown by an overwhelming majority in a popular election, chose a continuing alliance with us as a Commonwealth of the American Union.
Heretofore we have had States, Territories, and possessions. Now, we have a Commonwealth. It is setting a new pattern. I dare say that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is only the forerunner of many commonwealths, peoples of other lands in future seeking and obtaining alliance with us, with the commonwealth status.
So I have been very much interested that there should be in our laws a clear definition of commonwealth. I do not think the old definition suffices. It should include States, Territories, Commonwealths, and possessions. Or at the present time this could cover States, Territories, and possessions, including the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
I am glad we have had with us today the distinguished Resident Commissioner. We all know the stature of the Commissioner; how he is regarded in Puerto Rico, and how highly he is esteemed in Washington. It is no overstatement to say that the compact leading to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a tribute to his tremendous