The government of Puerto Rico must guarantee dignified treatment to thousands of victims of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That task includes disbursing, without further delay, the aid, which cannot remain subject to chaotic and uncertain processes.
And it also includes giving special attention to those who have lost their jobs and to other vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those living in poverty.
The Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH, Spanish acronym), and others such as the Treasury and Family Affairs are called upon to immediately demonstrate their capacity to disburse the funds and provide the essential services necessary to cover the basic needs of thousands of households.
At the same time, it is also urgent to speed up the delivery of emergency aid to the business sector, both to the self-employed and to small and medium-sized businesses that are drastically suffering from the economic blow resulting from the paralysis caused by the pandemic.
Last week, the government broke down the funds that several economic sectors, as well as many citizens, will be able to receive through the $2.2 billion federal allocations for Puerto Rico under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It also informed about the availability of other crucial funds amid the emergency.
However, processing the applications for financial aid and other steps necessary for its proper disbursement cannot remain as a steep mountain that represents an extreme challenge for those most in need. It is clear that the deficiencies in the state response to the virus further worsen with the refusal to take corrective action within and outside the government.
It is up to the government to seek solutions with technology and operational support providers to set an efficient funds disbursement process at this critical time. It is necessary to speed up joint responses, based on innovation, to the island´s needs.
Beyond its work to support the unemployed, the DTRH must seriously commit today to its mission to guide workers and employers to boost the economy. The agency has to fairly oversee compliance with labor laws. It must act as a facilitator of business re-opening, not as an antagonist body in circumstances that do not justify it.
On the other hand, a well-coordinated and diligent response is required from the Department of Family Affairs to expedite the increase in new applications for the Nutrition Assistance program, which already reaches 1.4 million beneficiaries on the island. In the meantime, the Treasury, which claims to have faster processes tied to recent notable improvements in the agency´s systems, must continue to work on its inter-agency technological support as the main responsible for channeling much of the aid approved in the context of the pandemic.
Puerto Rico is not alone in the great challenge of responding to the complexities stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the face of rising poverty and economic paralysis. However, given the avalanche of requests for assistance submitted by citizens, businesses, and organizations, many of whom are very dissatisfied with the government's initial responses, there must be a path to a solution based on accurate communication, which can build confidence and credibility.
Guaranteeing information channels to inform about the stages of processing requests for assistance, and to clarify doubts about the criteria applicable to disbursements, can dispel uncertainty and desperation. It will also help explain requests for assistance that have been refused because they failed to comply with state or federal requirements.
In addition to efficiently responding in this current emergency, the government must look in the mirror of the immensity of its deficiencies and must address, responsibly and with integrity, the major task of modernizing its structure, in attitude, skill, and technology, for the progress of Puerto Rico and its people.