Resident commissioner urges hurricane-affected small businesses to request federal subsidies

González Colón: Some $250 million available to revitalize local economic development

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Given the damages that small and midsize businesses faced after hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón on Monday urged local business owners to apply for federal subsidies available at both the Puerto Rico Housing Department and the Economic Development Bank for Puerto Rico (BDE by its Spanish initials) so they can restart operations.

Alongside BDE President Pablo Muñiz and Maretzie Teresa Díaz Sánchez, deputy director of the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) program, González Colón said around $250 million from the Small Business Financing (SBF) program has been allocated to the island for businesses that survived the hurricane damages they sustained in September 2017 or that had to shut down before March 2018.

The aid consists of providing up to a $50,000 subsidy for the purchase of inventory, rent or mortgage payment, payrolls, and services such as water, electricity, internet, propane gas or telephone, or equipment.

“Governor [Pedro] Pierluisi and I set out to get all this money that was in the agencies and let people know it’s available, let them get oriented, let them look,” the resident commissioner said. “There is no reason why a small or medium-sized business should have to close or have a line of credit maxed out to maintain an operation, because funds are available.”

González Colón noted that such grants have been available since March 2020; however, she said, constituents were unaware of the financial aid due to lack of communication and bureaucracy.

“Unfortunately, the former Housing secretary [Luis Carlos Fernández Trinchet] -- I say things as they are -- wanted to micromanage these projects, these programs that were pending authorization,” the resident commissioner said. “These programs must be left to be run by the agencies that know [how to do it], which obviously are the [Economic Development] Bank and the representation of the Housing Department.”

González Colón said the current plan to ensure the proper use of the allocated funds includes maintaining communication with the 78 island municipalities to identify local enterprises that can benefit from the grant and prevent further delays.

“It is time for action,” she said.

Muñiz, meanwhile, said BDE has received around 2,971 applications as of this month, with 418 approved.

“In the six months that we have begun working with this project and with the first part of the $225 million [in SBF funds], we have been able to retain around 2,500 jobs and created 1,600 new jobs,” Muñiz said, adding that the farming, commerce, restaurant and manufacturing industries have benefited from the subsidies.

The BDE president said the federal subsidies are available for both small businesses and microenterprises. Small businesses have 75 employees or fewer, one or more being the owners, while microenterprises have five employees or fewer, one or more being the owners, he said.

Diáz Sánchez added that businesses that apply for SBF funds must provide evidence of unmet needs due to the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Both for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations that are restarting operations after the storms may apply for assistance, she said.

“The socio-economic development of our island depends largely on this sector, and assisting them gives us great satisfaction,” Diáz Sánchez said. “We hope that this financial support will be of great benefit to both our employers and their employees.”

The officials urged interested business owners to visit for more information.

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