Washington, D.C. - The economic stimulus bill agreed by the U.S. Senate leadership will allow most Puerto Ricans to get $1,200 and places the island in a position to access hundreds of millions of dollars to assist the government in dealing with the coronavirus emergency.
The Senate unanimously passed the $2 trillion economic stimulus plan on Wednesday night, making it the largest financial bailout in American history.
The bill includes $377 billion in assistance to small businesses, $250 billion to strengthen the unemployment program, and $500 billion to rescue hard-hit industries, such as airlines.
According to Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, of the $150 billion the package includes to help strengthen state and local governments, the Treasury secretary will be able to allocate $3 billion to assist Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The bill, in turn, authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to distribute up to $200 million in food assistance to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Those two proposals were originally part of the House Democrats' bill. Both Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and Commissioner González had requested $1.27 billion in food assistance.
Vázquez Garced had also asked to include legislation approved by House Democrats in January and that would mainly allocate $4.89 billion to the island to address the damage caused by the earthquakes that hit the island at the beginning of the year.
The economic stimulus bill provides a check of up to $1,200 for individuals with income up to $75,000 and $2,400 for married couples with incomes up to $150,000. And parents would see $500 for each child under 16.
The payment decreases for those with income over $75,000 until it stops altogether for individuals earning $99,000. As for married people, it decreases for those making more than $150,000 until it stops for those earning $198,000.
The federal government will use the 2019 Social Security numbers or tax returns to identify individuals. If the person has not filed a 2019 return, then the 2018 return will be used.
Everyone who has a Social Security number should receive the check, including retirees, veterans, and assistance programs beneficiaries.
In the case of Puerto Rico – as what happened with checks after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 - the Treasury Department must submit a plan detailing how it will distribute the money.
As for U.S. taxpayers, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's goal is for checks to be automatically deposited to most people within three weeks.
Resident Commissioner González said talks between the U.S. Treasury and the local Treasury Department on how to handle payments to citizens on the island are underway.
The measure provides for companies with 500 employees or more - including those in Puerto Rico - to apply for emergency loans to pay for up to eight weeks of an employee's salary.
The loans will be available as early as next week, according to Secretary Mnuchin.
If the loan is used to pay the payroll, mortgage, rent or utilities between February 15 and June 30, that portion could be forgiven by the federal government. "The same happens if the employer rehired employees," said Commissioner González, who added the loans could be granted, guaranteed by the federal government, through the island's banks.
According to González, the bill provides for a two-year moratorium on federal loan payments.
The bill allocates $250 billion to strengthen unemployment programs in the United States and its territories, such as Puerto Rico, which allows for an increase, according to the legislation, of up to $600 in unemployment benefits until June 30, 2020, financed by the federal government.
The bill authorizes to include those who have completed the 39- weeks period for unemployment benefits and those who are self-employed.
Three Republican senators - Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Tim Scott (South Carolina) and Ben Sasse (Nebraska) – called last night for changes to the language on unemployment benefits, since they understood that it may allow some people to receive more money for not working than to return to their jobs and discourage companies from rehiring workers.
They reached an agreement early yesterday morning, Wednesday. "This is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after five days of stormy negotiations.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) highlighted, among other things, a $150 billion allocation to assist hospitals, health centers, and purchase medical supplies. From that package, hospitals will receive $100 billion.
There is “a Marshall Plan for our hospitals and other medical facilities,” said the Democratic senator on the floor.
Democrats had objected that the Treasury secretary could have broad discretion in granting assistance to local governments and subsidies to corporations.
However, regarding assistance to corporations, Schumer said that every loan document will be public and made available to Congress fast, so they can see where the money goes, what the terms are, and whether it's fair.
Senate bill provides a $50 billion financial bailout for airlines. Companies will be able to access loans or agree to have the government invest in the airline by acquiring part of the company.