Published on May 6, 2021 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

At the Center for a New Economy (CNE), like everywhere else in Puerto Rico, we have been shocked and seen with great consternation the recent acts of gender violence that have caused the death of Puerto Rican women.

Socio-economic development consists, as Professor Francisco Catalá reminds us, not only of the production of goods and services, but also in the elimination or reduction of social ills. There is no doubt that gender violence is one of those ills that causes the most distress and damage to our society. Half of our population wakes up every day scared of becoming the next victim of atrocious violence, just for the fact of being a woman. This is unacceptable.

At CNE we devote most of our time to studying economic and fiscal matters. We are not experts on gender violence, nor do we pretend to be. In Puerto Rico there are organizations, such as Proyecto Matria, Taller Salud, el Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres de Puerto Rico, La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, and Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer, among many others, that have made various public policy proposals to dismantle the patriarchal institutions and hierarchies that produce and reproduce these cycles of sexist violence. But, if there is something that we have learned during the past 23 years, it is that it does not matter how well-designed laws, regulations, executive orders, public policy guidelines, and government programs are, they are a wasted effort when they are not accompanied by the allocation of the public funds necessary for their implementation and enforcement.

Puerto Rico’s budget, therefore, is a fundamental tool in the eradication of social ills. In theory, it is a document that should allocate the scarce public funds available to meet the most pressing social needs. From this perspective, the recent budget negotiation process between the administration of Governor Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management for Puerto Rico (“FOMB”), is very worrying.

The government of Puerto Rico published its budget proposal for fiscal year 2021-22 on February 2. Said proposal included, at least, two items to begin addressing the problem of gender violence in Puerto Rico.

First, the administration of Governor Pierluisi proposed the creation of a $6 million special fund to address the gender violence emergency, under the custody of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), to “finance initiatives consistent with Executive Order 2020-013, to provide additional training to public employees and for citizen education initiatives to face this emergency.” The FOMB, however, in a letter sent to the governor on April 27, reduced that request to $0.2 million. Here is the FOMB’s brief response:

  • Special Fund to address the Gender Violence Emergency
    • Government’s request: $7 million to fund initiatives for employees to respond more effectively to emergencies.
  • Oversight Board’s corrective action: $0.2 million.
    • Funding request for media and advertisements as requested by the agency. The agency should further evaluate other funding sources including ARP Act federal funding, available to cover the remainder of the $7.0 million.

We do not know where this disparity in the total of the proposal comes from, the budget document states it is $6 million, the letter from the FOMB that it is $7 million. But regardless of the total amount, what is clear is that the FOMB ruled out the allocation outright without much thought and suggested to the local government that it try to find the funds from one of the federal government’s American Rescue Plan programs.

The second item requested by the OMB was $3,634,591.05, for the Prosecutors’ Office, specifically for the “Division for the Coordination of Specialized Units for Domestic Violence [sic], Sexual Crimes, Child Abuse, Institutional Abuse, and the ‘Drug Court Program.’” The FOMB approved the allocation of $2.8 million for these purposes, but does not offer an explanation of its reasons to justify the reduction of the budget request.

Even more worrying, despite the demands of various sectors to address the emergency caused by gender violence, the FOMB considered, for example, that hosting the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2022 was important enough to allocate $50 million to it, but it allocated only $3 million (of approximately $10 million that had been included in the initial budget request) to programs to address gender-based violence. Therefore, based on the budget document and the FOMB’s response, holding regional games in Mayagüez is more important and has a higher priority than two programs meant to begin addressing the chronic problem of gender violence in Puerto Rico. In short, this entire episode demonstrates how the FOMB’s budget decisions often do not reflect the needs and priorities of our people.

Recently, the FOMB announced that it was approving the $7 million budget request to begin addressing gender violence in Puerto Rico. This is a good first step, necessary but insufficient. We understand that eliminating gender-based violence is an effort that will take years, perhaps decades. Short-term economic, psychological, social, and health support programs are needed, as well as specialized resources to address the claims for protection made by dozens of women every day. In addition, and in parallel, it is necessary to implement an educational environment to generate gender equality in the long term, to change the representations and expectations of traditional masculinity; dismantle discourses, messages, and stereotypes that present women as inferior to men; problematize the economic, political and social inequalities faced by women; and promote gender equality in “all analyzes, social spaces, and public policies.”

This effort will not be successful unless it has recurring public funds for its long-term implementation. Puerto Rico’s budget has to reflect our priorities and allocate sufficient funds to begin the generational effort needed to end gender-based violence. We have to start somewhere. It is a matter of priorities.