U.S. Rep. Velázquez legislation on Puerto Rico federal contracts advances
SAN JUAN – As part of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the U.S. House of Representatives approved Thursday several amendments authored by Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), two of which could help businesses in Puerto Rico by incentivizing federal agencies to award them contracts as well as focus federal resources on environmental problems in the island-municipality of Vieques, her office announced.
One provision would “allow agencies to count double toward their small business contracting bill, contract dollars spent in Puerto Rico,” thus “incentivize federal agencies to employ Puerto Rican businesses,” helping create jobs on the island, the lawmaker’s office wrote in a press release.
“With Puerto Rico still facing economic woes and a long path to recovery, this legislation would direct sorely needed federal dollars to employ local small firms, creating badly needed jobs along the way,” Velázquez said in the release. “We owe it to our fellow American citizens on the Island to take every possible step towards rebuilding a more resilient Puerto Rico, and this bill is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
Between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, federal contracts to Puerto Rican small businesses declined by nearly $85 million, according to her office, which added that the island currently ranks 50th out of 56 compared with states and territories in terms of federal contracts.
“Federal procurement policy can be a powerful tool for stimulating local growth and, right now, Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get,” Velázquez added.
A third Velázquez amendment would require a government report on Vieques, which was used as a military bombing range and testing ground. The provision would commission the Government Accountability Office to study the “immediate, long-term, and latent health effects of the live-fire training at Vieques Naval Training Range conducted by the Navy before 2002, as well as other activities of the U.S. Armed Forces on the Island of Vieques,” the release reads.
“The federal government has a responsibility for the health effects caused by the pollution stemming from military exercises conducted there,” Velázquez said. “By requiring an extensive, unbiased, official analysis of how residents of the Island have been affected, this amendment can help us take an important step toward justice.”
Another Velázquez-authored provision would help New York small businesses become employee-owned enterprises or cooperatives.