Coronavirus relief disbursement period extended through 2021

By John McPhaul

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish initials) Executive Director Omar Marrero Díaz confirmed on Monday that the U.S. Congress has extended until Dec. 31, 2021 the period for the Puerto Rico government to continue the disbursement process through federal assistance programs to different sectors of Puerto Rico, in accordance with the Strategic Disbursement Plan for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) and as established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, commonly known as the CARES Act.

“This extension will allow the government to continue tackling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple fronts in Puerto Rico,” the governor said in a written statement. “In addition, an additional $150 million is guaranteed for contact tracing programs through the Puerto Rico Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracing System.”

Marrero Díaz noted that at present the funds disbursed under the aforementioned programs amount to $1.49 billion of the $2.2 billion assigned to Puerto Rico.

During the validity of the CRF programs, $480.8 million has been distributed to the economic sectors of the island. The funds have benefited 7,152 employers who received help for payroll, 25,381 small businesses, 1,269 midsize businesses, 190,064 self-employed individuals and 562 hotels and related businesses.

In addition, $390 million has been distributed to ensure that private and public hospitals have the necessary tools to respond to the emergency caused by the pandemic, including the risk incentive payment “hazard pay” for health professionals who are at risk of infection from COVID-19.

Regarding the response to COVID-19 and the tracking of cases, the island government has made available more than $270 million to implement programs for these purposes at the municipal level, as well as for the acquisition of personal protective equipment and disinfection material and for the implementation of other programs aimed at promoting social distancing. In addition, over $300,000 was earmarked for the acquisition of deep-freeze refrigerators and materials necessary to protect the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Some $40 million was also distributed for a dozen proposals for telemedicine programs to ensure that medical services are available to all residents of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, $200 million was destined for the island’s 78 municipalities for eligible expenses related to the emergency.

At the same time, vouchers totaling about $17.3 million have been redeemed by 21,522 high school graduates who obtained technological equipment and internet services in order to access their classes at a university or postsecondary educational institution virtually. Also, some $45.9 million in internet access subsidies were distributed to 143,425 students and teachers of the public education system.

“As of Dec. 17, 2020, $580,437,565 in funds left over from the reserve and programs that had met their objective remained to be distributed or obligated. Although this amount would have been incurred before Dec. 30, 2020, our goal is to use these funds efficiently and to ensure that the Department of Health and other emergency response institutions have the necessary resources to continue their efforts,” Marrero Díaz said. “It is important to note that this extension will allow us to secure and reserve an additional $150 million to extend the contact tracing program through the Puerto Rico Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracking System until Dec. 31, 2021.”

The AAFAF chief said an additional $150 million was allocated to the Unemployment Fund Trust to guarantee its solvency. Another $150 million will also be allocated for the island’s public and private hospitals.

“We will continue to closely monitor all programs and disbursements so that economic aid reaches the sectors that need it most,” Marrero Díaz said. “Meanwhile, our administration will continue to work hard to disburse the remaining funds through these programs for the benefit of the most productive sectors and through other entities that will also join our efforts to support the communities.”