Saturday, April 10, 2021

Puerto Rico Lands Benefits in Covid-19 Relief Passed by U.S. Congress

By on March 11, 2021

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González (Courtesy)

$1.9 Trillion Rescue package Includes Greater Access to Federal Credits, Grants 

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González said that the landmark $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill approved by Congress contains measures presented by her that will specifically benefit the island, including expanded access to the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319), which President Biden said he would sign on Friday, provides direct economic stimulus aid to families consisting of $1,400 per person for those earning below $80,000 a year. 

The CTC and EITC measures would provide $1.6 billion annually to parents and workers in Puerto Rico, González said in a press release. 

The CTC would be expanded this year to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for each child younger than 6 years of age, including residents of Puerto Rico. For subsequent years, the CTC would apply to the first and second children of residents of Puerto Rico in the same way that it applies to three or more minor dependents.  

“This should mean approximately $5 billion in refundable credits for residents of Puerto Rico over the next 5 years,” the resident commissioner said. 

The stimulus package also makes the EITC applicable to the island this year as for up to $600 million per year, she said. 

Moreover, the federal legislation provides billions in direct grants to Puerto Rico for Covid-19 relief, Gonzáles said. The commonwealth will receive an estimated at $2.4 billion and municipalities up to $1.9 billion to protect first responders, frontline health workers, and other providers of vital services. 

The island’s Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) was assigned an estimated $970 million in additional funds. 

The Covid-19 relief legislation also includes funding for local transportation and infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Transportation will receive $30 billion to aid public and private transportation systems, including covering the costs of maintaining bus and other collective transportation services despite the loss of income due to pandemic emergency restrictions. Besides covering payroll and paid leave for transportation workers with children at home and family sickness, the funds will also pay for personal protection equipment. 

González said that San Juan, the island’s most populated municipality, will receive $95.2 million of these funds, followed by Fajardo, $19.7 million; Mayagüez, $962,804; Ponce, $656,887; Arecibo, $464,030; Aguadilla, Isabela, San Sebastián, $424,535; Yauco, $234,752; Florida, Imbéry, Barceloneta, $181,594; San Germán, Cabo Rojo, Sabana Grande, $113,063; Guayama, $93,949; and Juana Díaz, $43,615. 

The resident commissioner explained that the transportation funding includes $50 million to improve the mobility of senior citizens with impairments. Some $1.41 million of these funds were assigned for the island’s central mountain region, $444,021 for San Juan, and $68,773 to be divided between Aguadilla, Isabela and San Sebastián. 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes $15 billion to further extend the CARES Act’s Payroll Support Program (PSP3) until Sept. 30, to provide support to the payroll of airline workers and related contract workers. 

Some $3 billion were assigned to the U.S. Economic Development Administration  to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, including 15% earmarked for communities that have suffered losses of jobs in travel, tourism, or other outside recreational activities.  

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Aid Fund will receive $50 billion for reimbursements to state, local and territorial governments for activity involving response and recovery, including the deployment of the National Guard and the supply of personal protection equipment to public facilities such as schools and courts.  

The federal legislation also orders FEMA to continue covering 100% of funeral costs of people who have died due to Covid-19, which was originally authorized by an executive order signed by then President Trump on March 13, 2020.   

Unemployment and temporary federal benefits are extended through August 29, while the weekly benefit remains at $300. The Pandemic Emergency Fund will receive $1 billion so that the states and territories offer non-recurrent benefits in the short term, such as cash and food stamps, to eligible families that have low income.  

Paid sick and family leave credits are extended until September 30. These are fully refundable credits against payroll taxes established by the CARES Act to compensate employers and self-employed workers for paid sick leave due to the coronavirus, and for family and medical leave. 

The employment retention credits established by the CARES Act will be extended to Dec. 31. For qualifying employers, the amount of the refundable credit can reach 70 percent of up to $10,000 in qualifying salaries paid to eligible employees in any calendar quarter before July 1 of last year. The legislation provides coverage for up to 600 hours of emergency paid leave for federal workers affected by the lockdown measures or care for family members affected by Covid-19. 

The measure extends the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program, which provides food benefits to help families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through the federal School Breakfast or National School Lunch Programs. González said that she managed to include Puerto Rico in the program through a joint resolution approved in September of last year.  

The resident commissioner said that thanks to the inclusion of the island, some 326,680 students in local public and private schools who participate in the School Lunch Program will receive $119 a month to “meet their food needs.”    

González Colón also announced the approval of nearly $122.5 million in Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding for child care and health services.

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