Wanda Vázquez

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced. >Carlos Rivera Giusti

Governor Wanda Vázquez announced that the state government will distribute $787 million in an attempt to mitigate the negative financial impact caused by Executive Order 2020-023, which establishes an island-wide lockdown and curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. until March 30 to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

According to the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB), this is in addition to the $160 million that the Emergency Reserve fund already authorized.

Some of these measures include a temporary suspension of the Sales & Use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) for three months, although specific dates were not specified. Also, the period to file income tax returns has been extended from April 15 to July 15. 

Regarding workers, self-employed individuals, such as freelancers, will receive $500 cash. This initiative entails close to $100 million and begins this week. The governor did not clarify how individuals can apply to receive this compensation and she did not accept questions from members of the press at the conference she offered, which can be seen under "videos" in La Fortaleza's Facebook page.

The government will also postpone the 10 percent withholding on payments to individuals who work under professional services.  

Moreover, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) will finance an incentive of $1,500 for small- and midsize businesses, also known as PyMEs. These must employ no more than 50 workers and cannot qualify for federal aid. Overall, this represents a $60 million investment. 

Vázquez added that FOMB will increase unemployment benefits as of July and the Department of Labor & Human Resources (DTRH by its Spanish acronym) will offer unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals. Details on this particular were not offered.

The financial plan also contains bonuses of up to $4,000 for nurses and $2,500 for health technicians, for a total $187 million. Likewise, police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers will receive up to $3,500 in bonuses, while first-aid responders will get up to $4,000. This amounts to an additional $50 million.

A press release issued by FOMB indicates that $100 million will be allocated for municipalities to provide support for lost revenues. During the conference, Vázquez informed that these would be disbursed in two payments and that requirements have not been established as of yet. 

Meanwhile, $20 million will be used to buy tech equipment and offer training to educators and students; $30 million will be distributed in two payments to purchase hospital equipment; and $20 million will be spent on necessity items like gloves and hand sanitizer for members of the Department of Public Safety. Although these measures were framed under the scope of the economic plan, Vázquez did not specify how exactly these purchases will directly impact the local economy. 

Other initiatives include the suspension of toll fees and a 90-day moratorium on mortgages, loans, and credit cards. On the latter, people must call their respective banks and / or co-ops because it is not an automatic process. The postponement will not have an effect on personal or business credit scores, as reported.

In addition, water and electricity services will not be discontinued for lack of payment for three months. Also, agency directors must identify in the next 48 hours all areas in which employees can work remotely rather than going to an office or establishment to perform their laboral duties. 

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with experience in social media management and digital marketing. Giovanna is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Narratives at Sacred Heart University in San Juan.

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