• The Star Staff

Parés discusses stimulus checks while push in US Senate to increase them is blocked

By The Star Staff

While Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés was in an online press conference discussing the disbursement of a second round of financial assistance as part of the recently enacted $900 billion Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Deal, Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday blocked a swift vote on a bill already passed by the House of Representatives to increase direct payments to citizens to $2,000 from $600.

“We can only count on the $600 check program, but some 2.8 million people will benefit,” Parés said. “Therefore, we shortchanged this.”

Parés, along with Assistant Treasury Secretary Ángel Pantojas and Roxanna Santiago, the Internal Revenue secretary, discussed the new stimulus package.

The Treasury chief first discussed the $1,200 check given under the first stimulus package that began in May by way of explaining why some individuals have not received payments yet approved under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Some 13,000 island residents have not received checks because they have the wrong bank account numbers and need to change them in the agency system, known as SURI, which is the Spanish acronym for internal revenue unified system. Some 4,300 checks sent out to individuals who opted for paper checks were returned by the U.S. Postal Service because of problems with the addresses. A total of 1.5 million checks have been disbursed.

Santiago said the returned checks are at the Treasury Department and individuals must send a message through SURI to the agency.

“You will get information back confirming if you have a check and then you must come to the Department with that information,” she said.

To correct the bank account numbers, the individuals must also use the SURI platform to make the appropriate changes.

Parés said there is a Dec. 31 deadline for individuals to claim their checks if they have not done so because that is the date by which the agency has to issue checks, but there is also a process through the 2020 income tax return.

Regarding the second stimulus package signed by President Trump over the weekend, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón spoke about proposed amendments to increase the direct relief payments to citizens to $2,000. The U.S. House approved the increase in the checks Monday. After González Colón spoke at the press conference, Parés revealed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had blocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to hold an immediate vote on increasing the direct payments in the year-end coronavirus relief bill.

Parés said 2.8 million individuals on the island are expected to benefit from the new stimulus checks. He said that because the Treasury already has citizens registered in its database, the process of disbursing the new checks next year is expected to move faster.

The distribution plan for the new $600 checks to individuals who make less than $75,000 and to their dependents must still be approved by the Internal Revenue Service.

The checks will not only go to individuals and couples but also to dependents, she added. The information that will be used to issue the checks is from the 2019 income tax forms.

Individuals who never requested the stimulus checks will be able to request them through their 2020 income tax returns. Those who are not required to file income tax returns must still file the form to obtain the payments.

Parents who have not paid their child support obligations will be subject to an offset, which means that the money will go toward those payments.

The $900 billion Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Deal, which provides a stimulus to individuals, businesses, and hospitals in response to the economic distress caused by COVID-19 pandemic and was signed into law over the weekend, does not include funding to states and local governments, and does not provide any liability protections for businesses related to the coronavirus.

It includes funding for individual stimulus checks, a restart and expansion of the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including clarification that business expenses paid with PPP loan funds are tax deductible, other new and expanded Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs, direct targeted funding to certain industries, unemployment compensation program extensions, payroll and other tax credits and deductions.

The legislation includes $284 billion in funds to restart the business program and enable borrowers to seek first or second loans, subject to new eligibility restrictions. It also expands the forgivable loan program to nonprofits, business leagues, such as chambers of commerce, and visitor bureaus and destination marketing organizations.

Some $40 billion is allocated to an extended SBA Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan grant period that now runs through 2021. The SBA is now given 21 days to review the applicant’s eligibility and either grant disbursement or provide notice of ineligibility.

Also under the legislation, the secretary of the Treasury is given leave to invest up to $9 billion in low- and moderate-income community financial institutions to provide capital investments for neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The legislation extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, a federal program covering the self-employed and gig workers, from Dec. 31 of this year to March 14 of 2021. It also provides Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation in the amount of an additional $300 per week beginning after last Saturday, Dec. 26, and ending before March 14, 2021, for up to 24 weeks of unemployment.


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