"This has definitely had an impact on everyone," said Eugenio Alonso, president and CEO of Consumer Credit Counseling, noting that electricity costs are already on average double those on the mainland. "Business owners are saying, 'I can't do this anymore given the costs.' They declare bankruptcy or simply close."
The new business tax is expected to generate nearly $500 million a year and applies to gross sales of companies generating $1 million or more a year. Another new tax applies to commercial bank transactions.
Wendy Cordova, a 37-year-old widow with five children who relies on Social Security and her income as a hair stylist, said she's struggling to make car payments and pay the medical bills of her 13-year-old daughter, a diabetic. She already sent another daughter to live with her brother in the U.S. to finish high school.
"Everything keeps going up, and people are still making the same salary," she said. "We're going from bad to worse."Nonprofit organizations across the island, meanwhile, have noted an increase in people seeking help. The concern now is that electric bills will rise next, given that the state power company depends largely on petroleum. It's another reason Olivo, the chemical engineer, wants a job. He said he had a stroke in May that he blames on financial stress. As he met with one last recruiter at the job fair, he learned they might need someone to help oversee the reorganization of a nearby factory. "Do you have immediate availability?" the recruiter asked. "Yes," Olivo answered. "Right now."