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Labor Dept. seeks $116.5M budget for fiscal ’12, launches online unemployment tool

Labor Secretary Miguel Romero

Labor Secretary Miguel Romero submitted a $116.5 million budget for fiscal 2012 to the House Treasury Committee Friday, saying it will be enough for the agency to operate and run a number of programs that pursue job creation in a market where the workforce barely reaches 42 percent.

During a hearing at the House, the government official said the budget is broken down into $85.4 million in special Commonwealth funds. The remaining $31.1 million, or about 27 percent, comes from federal funds.

“The recommended budget will be sufficient to meet [the Labor Department’s] operational expectations and continue the efficient use of available funds,” Romero said. “These resources will enable us to manage public policy related to worker protection laws, develop strategies for human resource development, promote the creation of employment opportunities, promote the welfare of workers and promote a real and effective partnership between employers and the working class to achieve labor peace.”

Next fiscal year, which begins June 1, the Labor Department will see a reduction in the availability of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, which Romero said would be offset with an internal revenue collection plan.

“This decrease in funds will be minimized by an aggressive collections plan that we have implemented, which includes a collaboration agreement with the Treasury Department to recover unpaid taxes owed to the Labor Department.”

It remained unclear how much the Labor Department is owed by employers who have not turned over payroll deductions.

Puerto Rico’s current unemployment rate hovers at about 16 percent, with some 203,000 jobless as of January.

But during the hearing, Romero said that the Labor Department’s institutional programs in place for fiscal 2011 have placed nearly 14,500 in jobs throughout the island.

“By granting incentives of more than $36 million to create and maintain jobs we affected about 3,933 workers,” Romero said. “In addition, through the Puerto Rico Trabaja web tool, we managed to fill about 1.060 new jobs.”

The agency also used federal funding available through the Workforce Investment Act to train current and retrain displaced workers, helping 11,280 people to find jobs, he noted.

Focus on self-employment
Romero told lawmakers that the agency is placing special importance on self-employment and entrepreneurship, through it’s “For my people” program. The initiative seeks to help establish 430 new businesses, train program participants and generate 860 new direct jobs.

The Labor Department is also reportedly looking to make things easier for citizens seeking jobless benefits, a notoriously painstaking and time-consuming process. To that effect, earlier this week, the agency launched an online tool through its website, which those already receiving benefits can access to request payments and verify the status of their checks.

If it works, the online service could conceivably eliminate the need for a significant number of people to visit the agency, thus reducing the wait time for those who still require help in person.

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Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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