Nydia Velázquez. (GFR Media)

Puerto Rican congresswoman examines how to improve assistance to Small BusinessesWashington - As chairwoman of the U.S. House Small Business Committee, Nydia Velázquez predicts that an upcoming federal economic stimulus bill will require more funds to assist small businesses, including on the island.

However, in an interview with El Nuevo Día, the Democratic congresswoman said the House leadership wants to evaluate whether the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) - which had a $659 billion fund and guaranteed over $1.7 billion for the island - is the best alternative to retain employees.

Puerto Rican Velázquez said yesterday that, considering that PPP and emergency disaster loans amid the coronavirus pandemic have benefited a little more than a third of the 28 million small businesses under the U.S. territory, "more money will be needed."

So far, more than $500 billion has been used for such loans.

At a time when she claims that the Donald Trump administration has not provided all the data on the operation of the PPP, Velázquez said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instructed her to analyze "whether this is the most effective way" to help small entrepreneurs and what "the next approach" should be.

However, she said she was satisfied with the second PPP round - after Democratic amendments that set aside $60 billion for loans in disadvantaged communities - would give access to businesses with fewer employees, with less history with banks, and to cooperatives, including eight on the island.

Under the PPP, over $1.7 billion in loans have been authorized to some 23,000 entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico.

Through the PPP, businesses with 500 employees or less have access to loans of up to $10 million, the use of which over eight weeks can be forgiven, as long as it is to pay payroll, profits, rent, or mortgage.

Pelosi and House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer hope to negotiate with Senate Republicans and the White House on a new economic stimulus measure that focuses on financial aid to state and local governments, nutrition assistance, a strengthening of coronavirus testing and contact-tracing programs.

In a conference call, Hoyer also mentioned funds for public health infrastructure, to subsidize the Postal Service and strengthen opportunities for postal voting.

"It is extremely important that the federal government assist cities and states that have been immensely affected by this coronavirus," the congresswoman said.

Velázquez talked Saturday with speaker Pelosi - after the most recent earthquake in Puerto Rico - about the importance of pushing the Senate and White House majority to try to include in an upcoming economic stimulus legislation the bill approved in the House in February, which allocates $4.89 billion to mitigate the recent earthquakes on the island.

Regarding her bill seeking to cancel a large part of Puerto Rico's public debt, Velázquez said she recognizes that "the Republicans - who control the Senate - will never agree." In any case, she believes it is important that the House Committee on Natural Resources push forward potential measures to soften PROMESA, at least to set a record in Congress for the next four years.

Velázquez, representing New York's 7th District, was appointed by Pelosi to the bipartisan congressional committee that will oversee the use of the more than $2.7 trillion approved to boost the U.S. economy.

"We have a responsibility to investigate every dollar spent ... to ensure that (the money) has been spent in the most efficient manner and to prevent abuse and fraud," said Velázquez, one of seven Democrats on the committee.

In avoiding comments on the $40 million contracts of the Puerto Rico government to buy rapid coronavirus testing kits, Velázquez said the committee will evaluate, "not only what has been spent, but what has not been used and the reasons for not using it."

A few days ago, Velázquez co-sponsored Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett's bill, which seeks to exempt U.S. companies that do business as foreigner corporations on the island from the new intellectual property tax (Gilti), as a mechanism to encourage manufacturing investment in Puerto Rico and the other territories.

"Never has this (debate) been more in line with U.S. interests," she said, given the fact that federal authorities, after the coronavirus pandemic, want to becomen less dependent on countries like China and India to produce drugs and medical equipment.

Former governor and PPD candidate for Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C., Anibal Acevedo Vilá, is promoting the measure from Puerto Rico, he yesterday sent a letter to the congressional leadership to request support for Plaskett's bill.

Plaskett's office indicated that it had no contact with Acevedo Vilá.

Velázquez said she has spoken with several of her congressional colleagues, and stressed that "this is the right time to join collective efforts" in favor of this legislation from the island and the U.S.


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