Chamber of Commerce urges gov’t to helpsmall businesses by relaxing PPP requirements

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce asked the central government Thursday to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as numerous small businesses on the island have yet to receive financial assistance because of the prevailing slow pace of disbursements.

The PPP comes from funds allocated from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that was awarded under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funds are managed locally by the commonwealth Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish initials) and Treasury Department. According to a report from the program, as of Oct. 2 the island government has only issued $44 million of the $350 million available, an amount that represents 12.5 percent of the total funds, impacting only 5,324 businesses.

“As a general rule, both the number of applications and the amount of benefits have been drastically reduced,” said Juan Carlos Agosto, president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce. “However, businesses, particularly small ones, continue to suffer from the economic hardships that the pandemic has brought.”

Agosto urged Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés and AAFAF Director Omar Marrero to make the program’s requirements more flexible so it can reach the entrepreneur who really needs it. The funds must have been exhausted by Dec. 30, so it is essential to modify the computations for the granting of the benefit to make them more flexible, Agosto said.

“We are aware that these funds come from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that was granted under the federal CARES Act and that that statute is intended to not duplicate benefits,” Agosto added. “That is why we understand the reason for making adjustments to the computation when other benefits were received, such as forgivable loans (i.e. EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] and PPP) or private concessions by industry under said federal statute. However, it must also be considered that the benefits granted under the CARES Act were used in the first weeks of this crisis and that as of today, more than six months after the first order of closure, business operations have not been able to resume normally.”

He pointed out that “all our small businessmen continue with their operations affected by the situation of the pandemic.”

“Failure to make the formula more flexible will mean that these funds cannot be used to help our entrepreneurs and will certainly have to be returned,” Agosto said. “It is for this reason that the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce is formally requesting that the formula used for [the PPP] program be reviewed and made more flexible so that we can ensure access to that benefit for our entrepreneurs.”

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