Puerto Rico House speaker to present measures to US Congress
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Méndez announced a series of supplementary initiatives he will be presenting to Congress that are aimed at boosting the island’s economy through job creation.
The first proposal is the implementation on the island of the Essential Air Service (EAS), a federal program that grants subsidies and funds to guarantee flight operations at regional airports throughout the United States and its jurisdictions.
“We have to look for alternatives to help establish the foundations of a new economy, focused on creating new jobs for our people. For this reason we have outlined a series of alternatives that have that goal and that we will present to Congress shortly. The first of these is the EAS, a federal program that helps municipalities, as in the case of Ponce, Vieques, Culebra, Mayagüez and Arecibo, among others, to maintain commercial air service, subsidizing part of small-scale air operations of 20 or fewer seats, at these airports, as well as the transportation of cargo, just like in the states of Alaska and Hawaii,” the legislative leader said in a press release.
Méndez said the program would make it possible for more airlines to establish their operations at regional airports, such as Mercedita in Ponce, Eugenio María de Hostos in Mayagüez, and Antonio Rivera Rodríguez in the island-municipality of Vieques, because the federal government would cover unsold seats.
“After the passage of Hurricane María, regional airports have become very important. We are confident that the congressmen will welcome this proposal that would create jobs for our people, encourage the establishment of new small and midsize businesses, as well as generate economic activity for the municipalities,” he added.
Méndez explained that according to current federal regulations, the Transportation secretary can make exceptions in the criteria so a municipality can qualify for the EAS program. There are a number of regional airlines, notably Cape Air, Boutique Air and Southern Express Airways that have developed their operations on EAS routes with aircraft with a capacity of up to 20 passengers.
The house leader indicated that the other initiative is to expand the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, to include both parents, which could offer Puerto Rico the possibility of receiving an additional $107 million a year to supplement existing aid to mothers and fathers who are unemployed.
Among the aid provided under TANF are resources for the purchase of educational materials, work training programs and assistance in the search for employment.
“What we are looking for with this initiative is to encourage the retraining of our people who lost their jobs as a result of the impact of hurricanes Irma and María. That they have the necessary tools to look for a new job in emerging fields. In Puerto Rico, we are discriminated against for being a colony because the TANF is only provided when a father is unemployed.
“The Two Unemployed Parents program does not exist in Puerto Rico. This means the aid is the same for the family whether one or two of the parents are out of work. This minimizes opportunities for education and job search. That is why we decided to present this measure,” Méndez said.
On the other hand, the house leader will also be pushing an amendment to section 24 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code to allow eligible families in Puerto Rico to claim the federal tax credit for dependent children. It is estimated that this proposal could inject $2.9 billion into the local economy over the next 10 years, benefiting more than 355,000 families and 400,000 children, with an average annual payment of $770.
This last proposal was part of the recommendations made last December by the Promesa-established Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.