Economic Dialogue Meeting in Puerto Rico | Puerto Rico 51st

Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez and Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator Don Graves met with a group of individuals from Puerto Rico’s leadership and the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico to plan for initiatives that will push economic growth for Puerto Rico in the next year.

The meeting came up with four focus areas.

Human capital and workforce development

The top goal for this item is to create more well-paid jobs in Puerto Rico. Some of the specific tactics planned:

  • The Comisión de Voluntariado y Servicio Comunitario de Puerto Rico will work with AmeriCorps to establish new national service opportunities. Puerto Rico already sends far more mend and women into the military than the states do. This program will create new opportunities for national service that will lead to training and experience in the area of public health.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work with the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC) to connect NAP (food stamp) recipients with work opportunities. There has been talk in the past of creating a work requirement for people who receive nutritional assistance. It is not clear whether this initiative is connected with that effort or not.
  • $50 million will be spent on a 21st Century Workforce Project which will update there Career & Technical Education curriculum in schools and universities to align with employer needs.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Green Energy Trust of the University of Puerto Rico will develop training on cutting-edge projects in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other energy-related capacities.
  • The Puerto Rico Department of the Family, the University of Puerto Rico, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will work together to improve the position of social workers involved in the project.
  • HHS, the Census Bureau, USDA, and DDEC will work together to create tools that will link job applicants with opportunities for training and employment in high-growth industries, including healthcare.
  • DDEC and the Department of Labor (DOL) will create Registered Apprenticeship opportunities in fields like construction and manufacturing. While manufacturing is an important part of Puerto Rico’s economy, the number of people employed in this sector is actually much smaller than the number employed in the service sector and in government jobs. Bridging more opportunities in the higher-paying blue collar jobs will produce better financial opportunities for workers on the Island.
  • The Economic Development Administration (EDA), UnidosUS mand the One Stop Career Center of Puerto Rico will invest $5.7 million in new opportunities in construction and aviation.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ana G. Méndez University in Bayamón will create a training program for mold, lead, and asbestos remediation.

Infrastructure, energy, and resilience

This section is focusing on things that should have been done since the devastation of Hurricane Maria, but which have not been done. The specifics should come as no surprise, but the number of organizations involved and the listed funding options may point to an optimistic attitude going forward.

Some of the most important elements:

The Puerto Rico Office of Management and Budget (OGP), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will create a Broadband Program Office. With about $158 million from the American rescue Plan, this office will work to establish broadband access across the Island.

The Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Commerce (DOC) will put together a Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team. This team will be expected to get the power grid in shape at last. They intend to meet on a monthly basis and power through the work.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDOH), and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) will work together with $78.4 million annual funding to clean up the water system.

Diversified economy

This section is a bit of a miscellaneous catch-all, including items like shuttle buses at El Yunque and and an investment of $7.5 million  by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in coastal research and education.

This section of the plan also includes initiatives to provide access to capital and training for small businesses on the Island. Lack of capital is usually the top obstacle listed by entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico in surveys of small businesses.

Governance and data

One of the ongoing problems in Puerto Rico is lack of access to information. The Census Bureau and the territorial government’s Citizen Information Portal (PIC) will work with other government agencies to provide more and more accurate information for decision making and accountability.

This section also lists “any future transition from the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) block grants currently provided to Puerto Rico to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).” Taking Puerto Rico from the underfunded NAP program to the same SNAP benefits as the states has been proposed many times; this phrasing suggests that it is being considered again, but does not commit to the change.

This section of the plan also mentioned the Child Tax Credit, which became available to Puerto Rico families in tax year 2021, and commits to maintaining this tax credit and improving the number of families using it — as well as reporting on the current level of participation.

“It’s been an honor to build this team and lead these efforts – Puerto Rico is at the heart of the Administration’s work on racial and economic equity,” said Graves. “The talent and energy that exist in Puerto Rico give me not only hope but excitement about innovative approaches to tackling challenges as we move forward in partnership with you all.”

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