Puerto Rico is one of the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to the catastrophes that the coronavirus leaves in its wake. Not only is the island still in a fragile period of recovery after Hurricane Maria, its people are also reeling from earthquakes in January that marked the most serious they’ve experienced in a century. Each factor would seem to bolster just how much Puerto Rico should get U.S. government aid laid out specifically for Americans suffering economic hardships during the pandemic. Yet, while speaking to MSNBC on Saturday, San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz revealed that not a single person has received a $1,200 federal stimulus check, despite eligibility.
In March, Puerto Rico imposed several restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, among them a 9 p.m. curfew and orders to shut down a majority of businesses. People have lost their jobs and continue grappling with financial difficulties exacerbated by the aftermath of the recent natural disasters they’ve experienced. Cruz explained that there are more than 130,000 unemployment requests in Puerto Rico right now, but that hasn’t made the U.S. response to the island any quicker. In fact, she shared, they can’t even get a $500 cash handout Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vázquez promised for the region’s nearly 170,000 self-employed workers.
“No one in Puerto Rico has received their $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks from the federal government,” Cruz said. “We’re having problems with a local $500 check that the governor said was going to be distributed.”
Time notes that the delays seem to be a result of special rules applied to U.S. territories, which stipulate that payments should be sent out through the territories’ tax authorities before getting into the hands of citizens. Francisco Parés, Secretary at the Puerto Rico Treasury Department told Puerto Rican publication News Is My Business that the deposits won’t be released until the U.S. Treasury approves of Puerto Rico’s distribution plan.
Until then, Cruz said Puerto Rico is also dealing with a lack of tests, which keeps officials from properly measuring and understanding infection rates. As of Wednesday, there have been at least 1,400 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Puerto Rico and 54 deaths. More widespread numbers could crush Puerto Rico’s already-delicate healthcare infrastructure and lead to more devastation on the island. Meanwhile, Cruz said that even very basic resources, such as food stamps, are also taking too long to reach people who need them most.
“Money is not getting into people’s hands because of the current local government of Puerto Rico, and perhaps, guidelines that have not been distributed,” Cruz said. “But the problem is not getting the support that we need. The problem is that the support goes to the higher levels of government, and doesn’t reach the people that it’s supposed to reach.”