Women’s advocate: OPM ‘will be inoperative’ if budget cuts continue

Sum needed for office to continue operating remains unclear

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Women’s Advocate Lersy Boria Vizcarrondo said Sunday that under the gender-violence emergency decree now in effect in Puerto Rico, the Women’s Advocate Office (OPM by its Spanish initials) “will be rendered inoperative” if the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board and the island government keep cutting the agency’s budget.

During a press conference held at the office of the speaker of the island House of Representatives to announce collaborative agreements and measures to tackle women’s violence and inequality in Puerto Rico, Boria Vizcarrondo said it currently has around $2 million to carry out operations She said the agency “had around $6 million before, but it has been cut since the agency was established in 2001.”

In the previous four-year term, OPM’s budget was actually reduced from $2.8 million to $1.5 million. However, with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia having allocated $654,000 in January to tackle gender violence on the island by hiring more inspectors, psychologists, social workers, attorneys and statisticians at the agency, the budget has risen to just over $2 million.

Boria Vizcarrondo said that amid the budget cuts, duties such as public service announcements have been sidelined as “we only have a certain amount of time in which to carry out the campaign.”

“It should be multitudinous, it should be like what is happening with [the] COVID-19 [emergency], [with the] constant [participation] of all public and private entities, that there are billboards, that there are press releases, that it is constant, that we do not keep ourselves operating only through social media networks,” she said. “But unfortunately, we do not have the economic capacity to be able to disseminate [information] 24/7.”

Boria Vizcarrondo said further that the OPM’s main needs continue to be advancing prevention and education initiatives to address the issue of gender violence.

“We need more female educators to participate,” the women’s advocate said as she pointed out the importance of collaborating with the island House of Representatives and Family Department.

“Here, the important aspect is to also have more inspectors, more examining officers to be able to adjudicate all [sexual harassment and inequality] complaints, and to address education,” she said.

However, when asked about how many employees the agency requires to perform enforcement duties, Boria Vizcarrondo said “… I would need all citizens because the eradication of violence could not be quantified with 100 or 200 employees.”

“We have to work and this is part of my speech, this is the responsibility of all of us as citizens; this is not something that affected us only yesterday,” she said. “I am clear about that [OPM’s duty], but in terms of quantification, what I am requesting is not to reduce it, but rather that in 2021, that the same staff be retained as when it [the OPM] was created.”

“Unfortunately, and despite the fact that the law itself stipulates that the budget cannot be reduced from the previous year, this has happened,” the women’s advocate said as she confirmed that the federal oversight board has cut more than 50% of the agency’s budget.

“It’s a reality and it’s a claim I’ve made since I took office in 2018,” she added.

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