Op-Ed: Success using ARPA funding
In Puerto Rico, we continue to set an example for other United States jurisdictions on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. After leading the administration of CARES Act funding effectively, without findings, we are now doing the same with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
Among other financial allocations, ARPA represented a $2.47 billion allocation for Puerto Rico’s central government to address the challenges of COVID-19.
The vision of this administration is that the funds must (1) mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) address the challenges present when life is already returning to normal, and (3) invest in elements whose benefit will be obtained in the future. In short, the aim is to use resources strategically for long-term results.
ARPA money was allocated to provide cutting-edge solutions such as the Vacu ID. In addition, funds were granted to provide financial incentives to those who had not yet been vaccinated. In short, we are setting an example for other jurisdictions on how to respond to the emergency using technology, together with vaccination efforts that place us as at the national forefront. Media in the United States such as CNN, highlight Puerto Rico as the jurisdiction with the highest vaccination rate with more than 73% of inhabitants vaccinated in Puerto Rico, surpassing U.S. territories such as Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine.
The “Premium Pay” is a way to thank those workers who showed up when the pandemic was raging. A special bonus was offered to workers in high-risk occupations, from supermarket employees to hospital and Diagnostic Treatment Centers’ nurses.
On the other hand, as tourism returns to normal in the United States, initiatives to promote Puerto Rico as a tourist destination bear fruit thanks largely to the ARPA funds. We allocated financial resources to support this sector and strategically position ourselves, like other jurisdictions such as Arizona, to take advantage of the re-start of traveling to Puerto Rico.
The island reached $1 billion in visitor accommodation revenue so far this year, a figure never before seen by this industry. Even travel expenses have been 2.8% higher between January and September 2021 than in 2019, while the United States has registered travel expenses in this same period 21% lower than in 2019 according to data provided by Discover Puerto Rico.
During the pandemic, our fellow United States citizens prefer to travel on American soil. There are no sudden travel restrictions, and they can be confident that COVID-19 is being taken care of in the places they visit. Therefore, it is an ideal time to attract tourists who would not have visited Puerto Rico in other circumstances.
For this purpose, we have allocated ARPA funds to Discover Puerto Rico, the Convention District, and the Tourism Company. In addition, we have ensured the financial liquidity of our cultural institutions, such as the Performing Arts Center, the Puerto Rican Culture Institute and others affected by the pandemic.
At the same time, Puerto Rico is investing in the future. Even after ARPA funding has fulfilled its mission, future generations will benefit from the results. As an example, over $276 million has been allocated to put an end to the short-column problem in public schools and thus ensure a safe study environment for our children.
Additionally, $130 million has been allocated to Caño Martín Peña to execute aqueduct projects that will improve the quality of life and economic capacity of a long-forgotten sector.
ARPA funds present an opportunity for the government of Puerto Rico to execute strategic solutions with short, medium, and long-term results that will benefit all Puerto Ricans. Without a doubt, Puerto Rico has risen to this new challenge!