Tens of millions of people across the U.S. have received stimulus checks from the federal government amid the coronavirus crisis, but one group of Americans is still waiting for theirs: people in Puerto Rico.
While the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns have left a record number of people across the country jobless, the U.S. Treasury still has not approved a plan to distribute $1,200 relief payments to residents of Puerto Rico.
“It creates stress,” said Jasson Vincenty Ruiz, a 50-year-old maintenance worker in Puerto Rico. He and his wife, a house cleaner, have had no work — and no income — since mid-March. The island has been on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The money starts running out as the days pass. The bills start accumulating,” he said, adding that getting these stimulus funds would be a “big help” to cover basic services, like electricity.
Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are eligible for the stimulus checks approved under a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress. But because they live in a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico’s Treasury requires approval from the IRS on its plan to distribute the funds, per the CARES Act.
Puerto Rico’s treasury secretary, Francisco Parés Alicea, told HuffPost on Thursday that the island’s Treasury was ready to give out the funds to people. However, it still does not have its plan approved by the IRS, and Parés Alicea said the agency has been “very reluctant” to provide a timeline for approval. Once the IRS approves the plan and sends the funds to the Puerto Rican government, it would take at least another three days to deposit the money into people’s bank accounts.
What’s more, this first phase of funds to be distributed will be only for people who filed taxes in 2019 ― nearly 500,000 people out of more than 3 million residents. Puerto Rico’s Treasury is still working on submitting a plan for 2018 filers and non-filers, which could still be weeks away.
“The situation is very difficult for our people in Puerto Rico — not having the approved plan creates a lot of pressure to our people who is suffering,” Parés Alicea said.
Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, on Wednesday called out the “urgent need” for the funds, saying she is asking the U.S. Treasury for a speedy approval.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Some people on the island ― it is not clear how many people or who they were ― received $1,200 payments from the IRS on Wednesday. Parés Alicea told HuffPost it was likely that those people had filled out a “non-filer” form on the IRS website, and he advised them to “contact the IRS directly” since the deposit did not follow the CARES Act distribution plan.
Vivienne Miranda Rodriguez, a massage therapist and doula in Rincon, Puerto Rico, has not received any stimulus funds and has had to close her small yoga and massage studio during the lockdown. The mother of two — whose husband, an agronomist, has also been unable to work — said the stimulus check would help them pay bills including their mortgage and utilities.
“Maria, the earthquake, and now this,” she said, referring to the 2017 hurricane that killed thousands on the island and devastated its economy, as well as the earthquakes earlier this year that left thousands in the south of the island homeless.
After Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, the Trump administration was criticized for its slow response in providing aid.
Miranda Rodriguez said she’s still paying down debt from the period after the hurricane, when tourism and her clientele dropped precipitously. Now she doesn’t know when her business will be able to reopen — or if work as a yoga instructor or doula will be sustainable if people are recommended to continue social distancing.
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