A new federal program has allocated $2,500,000 to be disbursed in grants of up to $5,000, aimed at the recovery of small business impacted by Hurricanes Irma and María
Thousands of blue-tarped roofs, designed to last just a couple of months under the scorching sun of the tropics, are a constant reminder that many Puerto Ricans are still living in the aftermath. The storm took its toll on everyone, but especially on small family-owned businesses that are still in recovery mode.
Structural damage, loss of inventory, and the need to replace essential equipment are some of the challenges that small business owners around the island still face almost two years after the Hurricane María. In response, the Department of Commerce and Economic Development (DDEC, in Spanish) is issuing grants for up to $5,000 to help these businesses get back on their feet.
The Laboral Development Program, named by the DDEC, can award up to $2.5 million via the National Dislocated Workers Grant (NDWG) to help small businesses with less than $3 million in revenue and staff of 25 employees or less.
A Rinconvenient Truth met with Jose Massanet, an official representative from the DDEC, who explained the $5,000 grant is intended to help cover the costs of new equipment, construction materials, as well as covering operational expenditures and ensuring business continuation. The money, however, cannot be used to back pay employees, pay loans or start new construction (additions to existing structures).
“Let’s say you lost some important part of your store’s inventory during the hurricane and have not been able to replace it. As long as that product does not consist of alcohol and cigarettes, you can apply for the grant. If a refrigerator or freezer broke as a result from the storms and you have not yet been able to replace it, or if you need to fix a wall or window in your business which were damaged by Maria, the grant can help you. But you cannot use the grant money for building a new deck, for example. You can repair an existing one ruined by the storm, but not build a new one,” Massanet specified.
He also explained that only bona fide small businesses, legally operating before hurricanes Irma and María, are eligible for these grants but must provide evidence that the damages suffered were due to the storm. This means having a certificate of registered commerce from the Departamento de Hacienda, a certificate of compliance with the sales and use tax (IVU), not having any pending debt with Hacienda (and if so, having an official payment plan), a declaration of business volume, and a municipal patent and use permit.
“The application process is not really complicated, it consists of a one page application form and the supporting documentation needed are documents most businesses already have. With it, we will also request pictures of the damaged structure or equipment. It is also necessary for the business owner to obtain at least three quotes on the costs. Once the grant is approved, we will disburse the funds and the individual will have a 90-day period to complete the transaction or consolidate their plan”, he added.
If business needs exceed the $5,000 grant limit, the applicant will have the same 90-day period to find the remaining funds to fill the gap. After finalizing the transaction, a DDEC representative will visit the premises to assure the grant was used accordingly. Once approved, beneficiaries will need to take part in a free, six-hour seminar on business administration offered by the state agency.
“The funds for the grant are already here and we are quite eager to assign them to small businesses that need them. I personally encourage everyone who feels they meet the criteria to apply. It is also a good way to engage with our agency since there are more programs coming up. Although I do not have any specific details, we are expecting a new grant to be enacted next month, which will offer up to $50,000”, Massanet added.
The NDWG grant program will be available until June 2020 or as long as funds are still available. Small business owners may visit the Northwest Local Area of Labor Development (Área Local de Desarrollo Laboral del Noroeste), located on Carr. #2 km. 122.4 in Aguadilla, and no appointment is necessary.
For additional information, contact the State Unit of Displaced Workers at 787-754-5504, extension 5286, or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.