Washington - The Puerto Rican government will be able to access the $2.2 billion through the federal CARES Act fiscal stabilization fund to provide new grants to small businesses, assist municipalities and, above all, strengthen health programs to address the coronavirus emergency.
Along with the disbursement of $2.2 billion, the Treasury Department published Wednesday guidelines on the use of those funds.
Regarding economic measures, the Treasury approved to use the funds to help small businesses to mitigate the impact of the shutdown; unemployment insurance - if not reimbursed by the federal government - and government payroll support expenses.
"These guidelines provide enough space and flexibility" to offer additional assistance to small businesses, said former Chamber of Commerce President Kenneth Rivera Robles, who had suggested to the Puerto Rican government to allocate some of those funds to increase support to businesses and strengthen the infrastructure of the Labor Department, which has been unable to disburse federal unemployment funds.
To help boost the economy, Rivera Robles, who is a certified public accountant, proposed to examine eliminating from now until December the Sales and Use Tax (SUT) and the inventory tax.
The guidelines announced by the Treasury Department also authorize financing, with the $2.2 billion package- which is part of the federal CARES Act - expenses related to online learning due to the closing of schools, and the delivery of food to the elderly or other vulnerable sectors of the population, such as the homeless.
Under Treasury regulations, state, territorial and local governments receiving such an allocation may only use it to "respond to the public health emergency."
Expenses must not have been budgeted before the emergency and can only be used to address government needs from March 1 to December 30, 2020.
As expected, these guidelines focus on using those funds to cover spending related to strengthening public hospitals and other health centers, including providing temporary facilities and its construction costs, and emergency medical transport.
These funds can also be used for the purchase and supply of COVID-19 testing kits, including serological testing; the costs of establishing public medicine; disinfection of public areas; and the purchase of medical supplies, disinfectants, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The guidelines allow for the allocation of funds for technical assistance to municipal governments to ensure public safety measures, placing people in quarantine, payroll expenses for public safety and public health areas, and even for ensuring health measures in prisons.
San Juan Mayor and Popular Democratic Party (PPD) pre-candidate for governor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, said the $2.2 billion package should make it possible to restore the $350 million in subsidies that were cut to municipalities at the beginning of this term. "That money can be the difference between a service that saves lives," the mayor said.
To comply with public health measures, the Treasury states that the $2.2 billion package can finance the government's efforts to help its employees work remotely.
The government of Puerto Rico will also be able to use the money to pay for sick and family leave to maintain measures to prevent the spread of the virus.