• The Star Staff

Gov’t announces guidelines for new economic aid to small businesses harmed by pandemic

The $65 million package will be for those with 6 employees or fewer

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s economic team announced on Tuesday that the guidelines for the new emergency financial assistance program for small businesses, the Business Interruption Grant from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, are ready, with $65 million to be distributed among eligible businesses.

“The guidelines for providing financial assistance to small merchants whose operations were interrupted by the prevention measures that have been taken since March 15, 2020, are already ready and on Friday, February 12, the call will be opened for them to submit their applications through the SURI [internal revenue unified system] platform of the Treasury Department,” the governor said.

This round of financial assistance arises from Executive Order 2021-010 and will be available mainly for merchants that operate restaurants, gyms, activity centers, theaters, and other places of recreation. Those who offer support services for entertainment activities could also qualify.

“I urge small businesses to verify their eligibility for these funds, following the guidelines, so that when the application process opens, they submit all the required information,” Pierluisi added.

Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) secretary-designate Manuel Cidre and Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés Alicea submitted the plan to the Coronavirus Relief Fund committee, whose members reviewed and approved the eligibility guidelines for the implementation of the incentive program.

The government officials stressed that businesses whose operations were disabled by the pandemic and did not participate in the Paycheck Protection Program (commonly known as PPP) of the U.S. Small Business Administration will benefit. The deadline for applicants to use the funds is Dec. 31, 2021.

Cidre highlighted the importance of financially supporting small businesses.

“Small merchants are the engine that moves the economy of our island and at the same time the ones that have suffered most from the economic ravages of the pandemic, having to close their businesses or significantly reduce their operating capacity,” he said.

Cidre added that he and the Treasury secretary are looking for alternatives that benefit the sector.

“This program was designed to alleviate the economic burden of small businesses by covering the costs and losses incurred by the interruption of their businesses or other adverse conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the designated DDEC secretary.

Parés Alicea added that the aid application will be available through SURI as of Friday, Feb. 12, and stressed that applications will be evaluated in order of filing and as long as funds are available.

“As in other economic assistance projects, we will use our SURI platform to receive and process merchant requests,” Parés Alicea said. “They will receive a notification through their accounts after being evaluated, and more details about this process will be provided soon.”

The Treasury secretary urged merchants to review the program guides that are available on the website of the Financial Advisory Authority and Fiscal Agency (AAFAF by its Spanish initials), www aafaf.pr.gov, and to verify that they meet all the requirements so that the process runs smoothly.

“The governor has requested that these funds be distributed promptly and that we work diligently for the benefit of this sector,” Parés Alicea said.

In this round of financial assistance, up to $5,000 will be awarded for merchants who do not have employees on their payroll, $8,000 for those who have up to two employees, and $15,000 for those with up to six people working.

Applicants can include costs and losses incurred, such as:

* Costs incurred due to a business interruption

* Reimbursement of costs or losses such as inventory, equipment (including personal protective equipment and other supplies to promote health and safety), payroll costs, rent, technology to facilitate e-commerce, professional services acquired (including the design and construction of environments necessary to promote physical and social distancing, and cleaning and disinfection services)

* Other operating costs that were incurred during the period beginning March 15, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2021

* Expenses reimbursable by the Coronavirus Relief Fund, as prescribed in 601 (a) of the Social Security Act and added by Section 5001 of the CARES Act including all subsequent federal guidelines and amendments

* Expenses that have been or will be reimbursed under any other federal programs, and are not eligible for reimbursement through BI income G. Disbursement of funds will be subject to the strictest standards to ensure compliance with federal regulations and best practices.

Therefore, each disbursement request will be duly documented and subject to control and audit.

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