Gov’t distributes $4 billion in federal rescue funds

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Tuesday the distribution of $4.02 billion assigned to Puerto Rico as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The governor, along with designated Secretary of State Omar Marrero, the Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés and Office of Management and Budget Executive Director Juan Carlos Blanco, said the government received $2.47 billion that will be focused on economic development, quality of life, governance of excellence and future projects. In addition, the island’s municipalities will also directly receive $1.55 billion.

“At this stage we will be giving priority to the economic development of Puerto Rico, and the quality of life of the people,” Pierluisi said at a press conference. “We have established a long-term strategy focused on economic and social recovery after the effects of the pandemic on our island. The commitment of this government is that these funds be administered in compliance with established federal guidelines, with transparency and accountability.”

The secretary of state stressed that this second round of distributions establishes the governor’s priorities and the needs that have been identified just over a year into the coronavirus pandemic in Puerto Rico.

Regarding economic development, with $150 million, the return to work will be encouraged in the construction sector ($30 million), the restaurant and bar industry ($50 million), the agricultural sector ($50 million) and the hotel and distribution chain ($20 million).

Likewise, $120 million will be allocated to promote Puerto Rico as a tourist destination, attract conferences and events to the island, and revitalize tourist attractions and natural resources.

Of the $120 million, $50 million will be used to promote Puerto Rico as a destination, $20 million to encourage domestic tourism, $10 million to promote entertainment and conventions and another $10 million to market the island as an investment destination. Also, $30 million will be used to revitalize tourist attractions, natural resources and spas.

The governor announced that in the second phase of the distribution of funds, $250 million will be allocated for future strategic initiatives focused on economic development.

Regarding quality of life, $570 million will be distributed between payments to essential workers in the public and private sectors. Of this money, $250 million is to recognize with “premium pay” payments essential public and private sector workers who have been fundamental in the response to COVID-19.

Those workers include employees of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, the Department of Health and the hospitals under its administration, as well as private hospitals and diagnostic and treatment centers (CDTs). Another $20 million is intended to strengthen genomic surveillance, $10 million to reward people vaccinated against COVID-19 and $1.5 million to create a digital certificate of vaccination for participants.

Another $30 million will go to non-profit organizations and $15 million to guarantee accessibility to Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration services and private institutions. Also, $15 million will be directed to assistance centers for the elderly and $15 million to adoption and family centers.

Meanwhile, an emergency reserve of $213.5 million for future strategic initiatives is to be established.

Of the $555 million for government excellence, $150 million is to support the municipalities, $94 million for the University of Puerto Rico and $50 million to repair and remodel government service centers. Similarly, and to support institutions and cultural initiatives, $50 million will be used for this purpose and another $50 million will be used to repair the homes of low-income families.

Likewise, $25 million will provide grants to all public hospitals to maintain liquidity and $15 million will provide resources to facilitate citizens’ access to health care.

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