DDEC secretary recognizes unemployed fare better receiving financial aid than going back to work

Says ‘even $9.25 an hour is not a fair wage’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary-designate Manuel Cidre Miranda acknowledged Tuesday that the majority of people in Puerto Rico who are receiving financial aid due to unemployment are better off receiving such compensation than going back to work for minimum wage.

Cidre Miranda’s remarks came at a press conference where DDEC and the island Labor and Human Resources Department announced a portal for employers to report employees who have refused to return to their workplace without just cause while receiving pandemic unemployment benefits.

During the press conference held at the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co., Cidre Miranda said he believes that workers on the island are not being rewarded for their labor as many are underemployed, working less than 20 hours a week, and said he is keeping in touch with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón in order to acquire tax credit benefits to encourage employers and workers alike.

“I want to point out, because we are human beings, a person earning $7.25 an hour for 40 hours is earning $287 a week, a person who is in the PUA [federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] is receiving $300 from the federal government and $240 from the state government weekly. We are talking $540 a week, $2,225 [per month] versus a very low amount,” Cidre Miranda said. “That is why it is important to try to change the level of ‘Welfare-to-work’ so that when that person joins the program, at the same time of [that person] going [back] to work, it does more justice.”

“I think we have penalized working here,” he added. “The federal government is proposing to raise the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour; however, even at $9.25 an hour it is not a fair wage. Therefore, a person earning $9.25 an hour could simultaneously receive social assistance and it would rise to 15 bucks an hour.”

However, Cidre Miranda said that part-time jobs should only be kept “for those who are studying at university and need to acquire working experience.”

When the STAR asked what the DDEC would be doing to encourage citizens with a higher academic degree to obtain decent jobs instead of being hired for part-time positions or being otherwise underemployed, Cidre Miranda said the agency is “conducting conversations with different industries around the world to develop more job opportunities on the island.”

“In the future, higher education must have a new perspective, since not everyone needs to obtain a bachelor’s degree to get to work,” he said, adding that the island must encourage more vocational jobs.

The DDEC secretary-designate made his remarks during a press conference where he and Labor and Human Resources Secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago announced they would also be working to maintain oversight over both the Labor Department’s unemployment assistance program, the PUA program and the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Employers who have ceased operations or reduced the number of personnel hired on a temporary basis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic or related economic circumstances may inform us through the website [employer portal] of any eligible workers who refuse to return to work to continue receiving compensation from the DTRH,” Rivera Santiago said. “As part of the protocol, our staff will stop the disbursement of funds on a preventive basis until the investigation is completed. Meanwhile, the claimant will have the right to challenge the process through our Appeals Division.”

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