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Re-Grow Program Beneficiaries Receive Guidance

Agustín Criollo Oquero|December 2, 2021

CPA Society Offers First Conference on Agriculture in Light of Disbursements

After the Puerto Rico departments of Housing and Agriculture finally reached an agreement that allows the latter to begin training to take part in the administration of the federal Re-grow Puerto Rico Urban-Rural Agriculture Program, which is funded by the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, the island’s Society of CPAs (CCPA by its Spanish initials) held its first Conference on Agriculture last week to provide specific guidance.

The forum, held at the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, focused on advising the potential farming sector grantees who may benefit from the federal aid that will be granted by the Agriculture Department. It was the first collaboration of its kind with this critical industrial sector.

“For the Society of CPAs, it is very important to offer educational events on current and necessary topics for the socioeconomic development of Puerto Rico,” CCPA President Oscar E. Cullen said. “It is essential to support the agricultural business sector to recover from the damage caused by natural disasters and other circumstances that have affected it. That is why this conference is only the beginning of the involvement of the CCPA with this sector and we will continue to support them, expanding our offer of seminars focused on agriculture.”

The conference, which was aimed at farmers and CPAs who have clients in that sector, included the participation of Bárbara I. Rivera Chinea, the director of the Re-Grow P.R. Urban and Rural Agriculture Program, which is still exclusively administered by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. She gave guidance on the requirements to qualify for the program, as well as on the current application process through the Trust.

“This grant is awarded to established and emerging companies, and it is divided into three levels, whose amounts range from $25,000 to $150,000. These disbursements are made in a staggered manner, according to the established or projected gross income,” Rivera said.

“Among the eligible entities are farms, community-based organizations, agricultural microenterprises with no more than five employees, producers, manufacturers and suppliers engaged in local production and distribution, including fishermen,” she added.

An important requirement that the program director pointed out was that each applicant must have an annual gross income of less than $350,000 according to the parameters established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Small Business Financing

For his part, Ramón Acosta, senior account executive with the Economic Development Bank (EDB), spoke about the opportunities offered by the government-owned institution, which manages the Small Business Financing (SBF) Program, which is financed with CDBG-DR funds. Among the different aspects of the program, he spoke about eligibility and the requirements to apply, the documents needed and the proper use of grants, which are capped at $50,000.

“This incentive is aimed at businesses that existed before the impact of hurricanes Irma and María. It does not apply to emerging businesses. If the company started operations before the impact of the hurricanes and closed operations afterward, it also applies. Similarly, if it closed operations due to the hurricanes and then opened under another concept before March 25, 2020, it also applies,” explained Acosta, contrasting the benefits of the SBF program with those of Re-Grow.

“Entities eligible to apply for and receive grant awards and technical assistance through the program must be Puerto Rico-based and registered to do business on the island, such as small and medium farmers, agricultural businesses and organizations,” as defined by the USDA, “with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under” $350,000, the

Trust’s website reads.

Among the entities that could be eligible are small farms or private farmers, including those specialized in fishing, aquaculture, beekeeping and vertical agriculture. Likewise, food producers, manufacturers, distributors or suppliers engaged in local food production and distribution; community-based organizations involved in food production; and agricultural microenterprise with fewer than five employees.

Applicants may use the funds for investment in agricultural infrastructure, equipment and tools, production supplies, production transportation and harvest vehicles, as well as the long-term purchase or lease of agricultural land.

After a Year of Struggle

The eventual streamlining of the Re-Grow program a year after it was announced arises after farmers from across the island denounced in House of Representatives hearings the program’s stagnation.

The novel program was designed at the federal level to stimulate the economic recovery of the agricultural sector on the island, with a $92.5 million allocation, subject to additional amendments to the Action Plan for CDBG-DR funds.

“Since we arrived in January this year to head the agency, we have been evaluating the progress of all programs under CDBG-DR funds and we have established the changes necessary to advance its development,” Housing Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez previously told Caribbean Business about the agreement to transfer the administration of the funds to the Department of Agriculture. “Given that we have witnessed great advances in the different programs, today we are happy to announce this new agreement.”

It is astonishing to hear an announcement by the OBoard that it would further tweak the POA to include several bennies such as Act 80 for incentivized public employee retirement; Act 81 for a dignified retirement and Act 82 for the liquidation of accrued leave days. And the cherry on top is the prohibiting of the 10-year restitution of the defined benefit pension system. Even Marty Bienenstock, he of the Ley de Quiebra Criolla, admitted that implementing acts 80 and 82 is not a risk worth taking because it affects the POA’s feasibility. Perhaps Bienenstock spoke the truth when he said that local laws are incompatible with Promesa. There is pain coming; that market access will not keep at bay.

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