• The San Juan Daily Star

Lawmakers introduce bills to provide relief to business sector

Rep. Jessie Cortés Ramos

By The Star Staff

Popular Democratic Party lawmakers unveiled a pair of bills on Sunday that seek to address imbalances in the business sector caused by the recently approved labor reform amendments.

House bills (HB) 1100 and 1101 will assist microentrepreneurs and micro-farmers in the differential payment related to the increase in the minimum wage approved by the House of Representatives on Aug. 18. HB 1100 would create a salary incentive for microenterprises.

“These measures are aimed at protecting small and medium-sized companies that have shown great concern about the impact of the laws and higher costs in their operations,” said Rep. Jessie Cortés Ramos, author of HB 1100.

Cortés Ramos said HB 1100 would amend the Puerto Rico Incentive Code to include microenterprises within the category of small and midsize enterprises so they can qualify for the incentives.

The legislation takes into account the high level of competitiveness prevailing on the island, viability in the distribution chain, the limited availability of protectionist laws in favor of local merchants and poor planning in the distribution of businesses in Puerto Rico, he said.

“To qualify for the incentive, the company must generate a net income of less than $500,000 per year, it must have no more than seven employees, and it will have to submit a request to the Puerto Rico Trade and Export Co. claiming the monetary stimulus corresponding to each employee or the monetary difference between the previous minimum salary and the current one,” Cortés Ramos said.

The measure states that starting Jan. 1, 2022, the employer can claim the difference between the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 and the new state minimum wage of $8.50 for a total of $1.25 per employee per hour.

HB 1101, meanwhile, introduced by Rep. Jorge Alfredo Rivera Segarra, would create economic aid for the payment of wages of people working in agriculture who do not participate in tax exemption programs.

“Currently there is an aggravating factor that directly affects Puerto Rican agriculture and it is the lack of skilled labor, a fundamental resource necessary to stimulate the development of different areas of our island,” said Rivera Segarra, who represents the municipalities of Lares, Adjuntas, Jayuya and Utuado.

Also, the measure seeks to lessen the effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the earthquakes that struck the southern part of the island in early 2020 and the current COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural sector.

“This House of Representatives is committed to contributing, directing and strengthening Puerto Rican agriculture,” Rivera Segarra said. “That is the main reason for these incentives that we are proposing.”

The stimulus directed at the agricultural sector consists of a monetary contribution of $3 per hour of the salary paid by the farmer in those municipalities that have an average unemployment rate greater than 9.5% as reported by the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics in its 2020 Unemployment Rate by Municipalities.

According to the legislation, a micro-farmer will be considered any natural or legal person who has not claimed deductions, exemptions or benefits provided by the Puerto Rico Incentive Code and has fewer than 10 employees.

The incentive can be accessed by couples with annual incomes that do not exceed $42,000 and for an individual, he or she cannot earn more than $21,000. Individuals who are dedicated to the cultivation of cannabis or its derivatives are excluded from the incentive.

If HB 1101 is approved, the monetary stimulus will be available as of Jan. 1, 2022.

The proposed laws are co-authored by House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez and Rep. Domingo Torres García.

The funds allocated by both measures will be evaluated annually with the availability of the budget and in compliance with the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, widely known as PROMESA, and the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

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