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Vázquez signs off on $500M to prop Puerto Rico’s economy amid COVID-19

Gov. Wanda Vázquez over the weekend signed off on an economic aid package for Puerto Rico’s individuals and businesses whose finances have been affected by a lockdown and 24/7 curfew in effect since Mar. 15, to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 spread.

The first $500 million in assistance from the Emergency Measure Support Package that will go to frontline workers, educators and students, and small businesses, will come from the government’s General Fund, authorized by the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

The funding became available after the Legislature approved a joint House-Senate Resolution, which the Oversight Board certified Sunday after the Legislature’s vote and the governor’s signature, the U.S. appointed body confirmed in a statement.

The money will cover: an incentive of up to $500 to self-employed individuals, according to parameters established by the Puerto Rico Treasury Department, totaling $100 million; $3,500 to municipal police officers, for a total nearly $12 million; the same amount for municipal firefighters totaling $175,000; and, an incentive of up to $2,000 for Treasury agents, totaling $500,000.

The Department of Economic Development and Commerce will offer an incentive of up to $1,500 to small and medium-sized businesses, also according to its guidelines as well as those Treasury uses to define the sector. This adds up to $60 million.

Other workers in line for incentives are: Bureau of Medical Emergencies technicians ($3,500); Puerto Rico Police Bureau members (up to $4,000); Puerto Rico Fire Department Bureau members (up to $3,500); Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Service staff handling emergencies, crises and disasters, and 9-1-1 personnel (up to $3,500); Bureau of Special Investigations agents (up to $3,500); Bureau of Forensic Sciences staff (up to $3,500), in addition to funding to purchase safety equipment and materials. These assignments total nearly $76 million.

As for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the allocation provides up to $3,500 for correction officers in service for a total of some $17 million; up to $2,000 for Judicial Branch employees and officers, totaling $800,000.

The Education Department will have $124.2 million available to obtain — either through direct purchase or lease — technological equipment, such as tablets, licenses and software programs to provide training services to offer distance education.

The University of Puerto Rico will get some $1.7 million to fund research and development in the Medical Sciences Campus and other facilities related to COVID-19 and related topics.

The Office of Management and Budget will provide emergency assistance to the island’s 78 municipalities, which will be distributed as follows: $1 million for towns with 25,000 residents or less; $1.35 million for municipalities with between 25,001 and 50,000 residents; $1.75 million for municipalities with more than 50,001 residents. The incentives add up to a little more than $100 million.

The Highway and Transportation Authority will also receive nearly $2 million to mitigate the loss of income, including the temporary cancellation of toll charges to drivers, among other expenses, according to the resolution.

Meanwhile, the Oversight Board explained that more funding is available to round out the $787 million package announced last week. That includes $157 million coming from the current fiscal year 2020 Commonwealth General Fund budget, and $131 million in federal funds.

The Emergency Measures Support Package is in addition to the availability of $160 million from Puerto Rico’s Emergency Reserve Fund the Oversight Board had already authorized.

“The Oversight Board encourages the Government to distribute the funds urgently to ensure that the support reaches those who need the funds as soon as possible,” the entity said in a separate statement.

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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