Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Puerto Rico Gov’t Begins Accepting Applications from Small Businesses for Covid-19

By on March 31, 2020

Eligible Business Owners May Also Apply for Treasury Incentive for Self-employed

SAN JUAN – Starting Tuesday, small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Puerto Rico can access www.refuerzoeconomico.com to apply for $1,500 in aid the government of Puerto Rico is providing to mitigate the impact of the emergency set off by the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Puerto Rico Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Manuel Laboy said that business owners may fill out an application online and present the documents required to claim the incentive, which totals $60 million.

“Approximately 40,000 SMEs will be able to complete the application through our website www.refuerzoeconomico.com to obtain $1,500 that will help address certain needs in the face of the closing of businesses to avoid the spread of Covid-19,” Laboy said. “For this, we have established an easy and accessible process, so that the applicant is able to complete the online form and include the merchant registry [identification number], among other specific personal and business data required to process the disbursement of the economic aid.”

Laboy said that in contrast to the process to aid SMEs affected by the January earthquakes in the island’s southern region, applicants for the novel coronavirus aid do not need to show up at DDEC offices to pick up forms and receive checks.

In Puerto Rico, there are 43,000 SMEs that may request this aid, he said.

To be eligible for the incentive, each SME must comply with the following requisites:

  • Have 50 or fewer employees
  • Have an annual business volume of no more than $10 million
  • Should be registered as a business in the Treasury Department’s online internal revenue system (SURI by its Spanish acronym)
  • Must have an active Merchant Registry Certificate (Modelo SC 2918) as of March 15

In those cases in which businesses have Merchant Registry Certificates expired as of March 15, they must renew them before applying for the incentive and, in addition, certify that they have not ceased operations.

In order for DDEC to make the incentive disbursement, business owners must enter and confirm through the agency’s application system their bank account number and corresponding routing number in which the economic stimulus will be deposited.

In a reversal of one of the original incentive requirements, Laboy clarified Tuesday that business owners who applied for a $500 economic incentive provided by the Puerto Rico Treasury Department for self-employed individuals may also apply for the SME incentive, after reaching an agreement with this agency.

“We received concerns from the private sector that there were business owners who are self-employed and applied for the $500 incentive provided by the Treasury Department who would also comply with the DDEC stimulus requirements,” he said. “Taking this into account, we achieved the elimination of the requirement that the business owner applying for the $500 incentive could not qualify for the $1,500 incentive.”

Laboy called on all eligible individual entrepreneurs to continue applying for the $500 incentive for the self-employed, regardless if they are employers or not.

“This is the fastest way to receive this benefit immediately,” he said.

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés Alicea said his agency will report to DDEC the individuals who receive the $500 incentive, so that during the processing and validation of applications Treasury can determine if the corresponding payments should either be $1,000 or $1,500 in each case.

As of Tuesday afternoon, DDEC reported the filing of 4,442 applications for its incentive, including the creation of 2,718 pending accounts for the application form, during the first day of the availability of the $1,500 cash incentive to mitigate business loss from the lockdown closures.

“In the face of this great volume of visits and application petitions, [we] had to make technical adjustments in the system to increase its capacity, so that the emails that are issued with the [application] form are sent as quickly as possible to the applicant,” the DDEC chief said.

In line with Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s instructions to simplify the process established in the South Economic Reinforcement plan to aid SMEs affected by the quakes earlier this year, the agency organized a work team to process the applications remotely from their homes, Laboy said. He could not say how long would it take for the cash incentive to arrive in each case, adding that before the money is sent the agency must validate that the information provided is correct.

“But everything is designed to run quite fast,” he said.

The incentive is part of the package of economic relief measures announced last week by the governor. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has offered options to business owners during the current crisis, apart from the $2.2 trillion in federal coronavirus economic incentives approved last week.

“We are also in contact with other groups from the eco-business sector, to support them in spreading the message about different initiatives to direct and incentivize the island’s economic recovery,” the DDEC chief said.

To apply for the $1,500 incentive, SMEs must log on to the www.refuerzoeconomico.com. Questions or concerns may be emailed to empresario@ddec.pr.gov. Application for the SBA aid may be made at www.sba.gov.pr.

—CyberNews contributed to this report.

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