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The Puerto Rico Treasury Department has issued Circular Letter 2021-18, establishing the rules to apply for the Return-to-Work Incentive Program announced by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi in June 2021, according to a report by San Juan-based law firm O’Neill & Borges LLC.

The program has up to $150 million for eligible individuals on the island who return to work before Sept. 4, 2021 in industries such as hospitality, restaurants, agriculture and construction.

“The Return-to-Work Incentive Program aims to help Puerto Rico emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and assist industries in need of economic development, making available up to $150 million for eligible individuals who return to the workforce in specific industries before Sept. 4, 2021. Of the total amount available, $50 million is allocated for eligible individuals returning to work in restaurants and bars; $20 million for the hospitality industry, $30 million for the agriculture industry, and $30 million is available for the construction industry,” as per the report, written by O’Neill & Borges attorneys José F. Benítez and Laura E. Díaz, of the firm’s Labor and Employment Department.

The program rules adopted in Treasury’s Circular Letter 2021-18, which was issued on Aug. 30, establishes that eligible employees may receive an initial award payment of $500 when hired before Sept. 4, 2021, and award payment of $1,500 if they meet the eligibility requirements provided in the Circular Letter. Both awards are paid directly to the employee, according to the two attorneys. The program operates as part of the federal government’s Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

As provided in the Circular Letter, the eligibility criteria for participating in the program are the following:

Eligible employers must meet all the following criteria:

• Be a private sector employer;

• Be an active business at the moment of applying for the grant;

• Be engaged in the food and beverage (bars and restaurants), hospitality, agriculture or construction industries;

• Be duly registered in the Merchants Registry of the Department of the Treasury, and have at least one of the NAICS Codes listed in CC-21-18 as their main trade or business activity; and

• Have filed a 2020 Puerto Rico Income Tax Return or a Request for Extension of Time to File the Income Tax Return (Form AS 2644) for taxable year 2020.

Eligible employees must meet all the following criteria:

• Be receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) up until the date in which they started working in an eligible industry;

• Stopped claiming unemployment benefits upon receiving offer of employment in an eligible industry;

• Start working with a new employer with an eligible NAICS code, as provided in CC-21-18;

• Secure part-time or full-time employment with an eligible employer between July 1, 2021, and Sept. 4, 2021;

• Commit to abide by the program’s terms and conditions; and

• Agree to return program funds if it is determined that he or she did not comply with the program’s eligibility requirements.

The final award payment of $1,500 is subject to the employee’s continued employment for at least 90 days since the initial award payment was received by eligible employees.

Applications must be submitted through the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury’s SURI system starting on Aug. 30, 2021. Treasury expects initial award payments to be disbursed by Sept. 30, 2021, and final payments between Dec. 6, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021, according to O’Neill & Borges.

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