Half of ARPA funds allocated to PR remain to be distributed
By The Star Staff
Of the $2.47 billion allocated by the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) to Puerto Rico, the local government has distributed only about half of the funds, as it has allocated $140 million for economic development, $761 million to the public health system, $564 million to address critical infrastructure and $645 million to improve government services to citizens.
The information was provided Thursday by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia in a virtual conference entitled “The Path to Economic Recovery: One Year of the American Rescue Plan in Puerto Rico,” where the governor was joined by Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, and the White House team.
“The American Rescue Plan has been instrumental and key in our efforts to mitigate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to boost Puerto Rico’s recovery, including our economic development,” Pierluisi said. “As governor, I am extremely grateful to the Biden-Harris administration and Congress because in this aid package they have treated Puerto Rico equally. Definitely, while we look to a bright and sustainable future, this treatment of the federal government has made a big difference.”
The governor stressed that the distribution of the ARPA funds has been done in compliance with the guidelines of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
During his speech, Pierluisi noted that for the implementation of ARPA in Puerto Rico, 33 initial programs were divided into four strategic areas of impact. The allocations will inject necessary funds into various economic sectors and government entities, he said.
The health strategies that the commonwealth government has implemented with the support of the private sector have positioned the island as having the highest rate of vaccination against the coronavirus in the entire United States and its territories, Pierluisi said. Most of the funds allocated by the federal government have gone to health and quality of life programs including “Premium Pay” payments to essential workers, particularly first responders and employees in the healthcare industry and restaurant sector.
Pierluisi said nearly $700 million has been disbursed and about $500 million in direct payments have been allocated. With those funds, the government is making sure to have a recovery process “that drives us to a better future,” he said. The governor stressed that the flexibility provided by the federal government for the distribution of funds has allowed it to help the most needy sectors.
Likewise, he said that as part of the initiatives to promote vaccination against COVID-19, incentives were given and a genomic surveillance system was established to identify the different variants of the virus. Also, more than one million people have their digital vaccination card with the VacuID, which has helped thousands of businesses and facilitated public and private activities.
“Our public health system’s response to COVID-19 has positioned Puerto Rico as the number one jurisdiction with the most people vaccinated across the United States,” Pierluisi said. “This is a great achievement and shows that when we are treated as equals, we are up to the task and we are leaders in the nation.”
To provide a safe school environment for students in the public education system, the government created an improvement program in the Department of Education to which $276.8 million was allocated. The goal is to make the necessary improvements to the physical structures of schools, particularly those that are part of the 70 percent with serious structural damage. Also, some of those funds are used to implement the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in schools.
In addition, ARPA provided Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding that helped the Education Department procure equipment and supplies to take precautionary measures against COVID-19, as well as conduct summer educational programs, the governor noted.
“These funds have also been used to grant salary increases to teachers while “we are in the process of identifying local funds to gradually include in our recurring budget,” he said.
Pierluisi stressed that with the availability of the ARPA funds, Puerto Rico’s labor market and economy has experienced an unprecedented rebound.
In December 2020, when the most dramatic closures due to the pandemic were still prevailing, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was 10.5 percent. However, as citizens were vaccinated and were able to return to work, the unemployment rate fell, as evidenced by statistics from last December, to 7.5 percent.
“Those rates continue to decline, as there is a dramatic change in the labor force participation rate,” the governor said.
In December 2020 the labor participation rate was 39.9 percent and in one year it rose to 44.2 percent.
“Even the New York Federal Reserve has highlighted Puerto Rico’s successes and resilience,” Pierluisi said.
The governor also stressed that social and economic assistance programs have been implemented for low-income families and workers to combat poverty, such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“Our administration has developed a comprehensive strategy to help all eligible citizens on the island apply for these credits,” the governor said when announcing that an event will be held Friday at the Convention Center with the Treasury Department to train municipal personnel, community and government leaders on the issue.