Velázquez Advances Key Small Business, Puerto Rico Legislation
Measures Incorporated into Larger Defense Package
Washington, DC – As part of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved three amendments authored by Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). The Velázquez-authored provisions will help businesses in Puerto Rico by incentivizing federal agencies to award them contracts, focus federal resources on environmental problems in Vieques and help New York businesses that are looking to transition into employee ownership.
“I’m honored that my colleagues have seen fit to encourage these measures in the broader package,” Velázquez noted. “These are provisions that will help more New York small businesses become employee-owned enterprises or cooperatives. They will help fuel Puerto Rico’s physical and economic recovery and they will paint a clear picture of how the Navy’s presence in Vieques impacted the health of its residents. I’m pleased to have secured bipartisan support of my colleagues and see them passed.”
Empowering Employees and Boosting Cooperatives
Today, the House passed Velázquez’s amendment to expand opportunities for employees to own a stake in the company they work for by transitioning to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) or a cooperative (co-op). ESOPs and co-ops have a proven track record of success, with companies that transition to the employee-ownership model seeing an increase in productivity by 4 to 5 percent. In addition, workers employed by these entities have higher wages on average and greater household wealth.
Velázquez’s amendment would improve access to capital and technical assistance to transition small businesses to employee ownership, helping to save jobs and financially empower employees. Among other changes, the amendment would make it easier for small firms to utilize the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) program to finance their transition to employee-owned models.
Velázquez’s amendment was further prompted by the success of local employee-owned co-operatives in her home district of New York City. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“I am pleased to join forces with Senator Gillibrand to expand opportunities in a growing and exciting sector of the small business economy—employee owned businesses,” said Velázquez. “In New York City, a surge in employee-owned co-operatives has prompted residents to shop locally and engage with their communities. I am pleased that this bill has passed in the House and I encourage the Senate to take swift action to move it forward.”
“I am pleased that under Congresswoman Velázquez’s leadership, this legislation has passed in the House of Representatives and has now been included in the House version of the NDAA, which means we are one step closer to getting this bill signed into law. Too many hardworking New Yorkers are still struggling to get jobs that pay them enough to take care of their families and save for retirement, and this legislation would help companies reward work without sacrificing profit,” said Senator Gillibrand (D-NY). “Employee-owned businesses have a strong track record of better pay and retirement benefits for workers and a commitment to creating local jobs. I have been proud to work with Congresswoman Velázquez on companion legislation in the Senate and will continue to fight as hard as I can to for the investments needed to support employee ownership in New York and around the country.”
Creating Economic Opportunity in Puerto Rico
Velázquez also successfully included in the NDAA her legislation that would allow agencies to count double toward their small business contracting bill, contract dollars spent in Puerto Rico. The bill will therefore incentivize federal agencies to employ Puerto Rican businesses, helping create jobs on the hurricane-ravaged island.
“With Puerto Rico still facing economic woes and a long path to recovery, this legislation would direct sorely needed federal dollars to employ local small firms, creating badly needed jobs along the way,” said Velázquez. “We owe it to our fellow American citizens on the Island to take every possible step towards rebuilding a more resilient Puerto Rico, and this bill is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
Currently, a small number of federal contracts are performed in Puerto Rico with the Island ranking 50th out of 56, in comparison to all U.S. states and territories. Between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 the total awards of federal contracts to Puerto Rican small businesses declined by nearly $85 million.
“Federal procurement policy can be a powerful tool for stimulating local growth and, right now, Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get,” Velázquez noted. “If enacted, these provisions would spur federal agencies to contract with Puerto Rican companies, creating badly needed local jobs.”
Progress for Vieques
A third Velázquez amendment would require a government report on the long-troubled Puerto Rican Island of Vieques, which for years housed a U.S. military bombing range. Velázquez’s amendment would commission the Government Accountability Office to study the immediate, long-term, and latent health effects of the live-fire training at Vieques Naval Training Range conducted by the Navy before 2002, as well as other activities of the U.S. Armed Forces on the Island of Vieques.
“The federal government has a responsibility for the health effects caused by the pollution stemming from military exercises conducted there,” Velázquez said. “By requiring an extensive, unbiased, official analysis of how residents of the Island have been affected, this amendment can help us take an important step toward justice.”
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