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Puerto Rico in the Great Depression

Forty-Forth Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico, 1944 (Excerpts)
Rexford G. Tugwell

Excerpts from the Forty-Forth Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico (1944). Land Authority (p. 39-40), Minimum Wage Board (p. 40-41), and Farm Security Administration (p. 60-61)

Publishing Information
    Land Authority

    The outstanding event in the land program during the year was the operation of the first six proportional-profit farms by the Land Authority. These farms, which were established on land purchased in the previous fiscal year from the Central Cambalache, were planted to sugar cane. A net profit of $53,656 was realized, despite the fact that the year was extremely difficult for sugar producers, because of the drought and the continued scarcity of fertilizers and equipment. Of the net profits, the sum of $46,891.98 has been set aside for distribution to the workers employed on the farms, while $6,763.98 will go to the lessees of the farms. In the course of the year, the Land Authority acquired 6,246.61 cuerdas of land, for the purpose of Title V of the. Land Law (Agregado program), at a cost of $590,262.34. This represented the major land acquisition of the year. As of June 30, 1944, a total of 23,969 cuerdas of land, for all purposes of the Land Law, had been acquired by the Authority, at a cost of $2,795,029. This total does not include 5,639 cuerdas of land of time Compañía Azucarera del Toa, for which negotiations to purchase were practically completed on June 30.

    In developing the program for Agregados (landless farm workers), the Authority established 38 rural communities and distributed parcels of land ranging from one-fourth cuerda to three cuerdas to 5,108 agregado families, representing about 25,000 persons. As of June 30, a total of 9,021 parcels of land had been distributed, benefiting approximately 46,000 persons. In the established communities, plots were reserved for churches, vocational schools, 4-H Clubs, stores and other public services.

    The amount of subsistence crops already planted on the agregado plots indicates that those who have, received land are willing and able to till it. At the close of the year, subsistence crops valued at. $206,268 were being cultivated.

    Under the provisions of Section 25 of the. Land Law, 89 individual farms were created and 75 of the farms, comprising 1,194 cuerdas of land valued at $93,834. were assigned to farmers during the year.

    In addition to the lands of the. Compañía Azucarera del Toa, 37,758 cuerdas of land, with a value of $3,550,066 were appraised during the year.

    Minimum Wage Board

    At the beginning of the year, Mandatory Decrees issued by the Board, were in effect for the leaf tobacco industry, the sugar industry, and hospitals, clinics and sanatoria. Mandatory Decrees covering the beer and soft drinks industries and hotels, restaurants, bars, and soda fountains were issued during the year.

    The Board set rates of 30 cents an hour for the beer industry, and 25 cents an hour for the soft drinks business. In the case of the latter industry it was prescribed that the rate will be raised to 30 cents an hour six months after the end of the war. An eight-hour day and 48-hour week were ordered with double time for every hour in excess of either the daily or weekly maximum. Minimum wages prevailing in these industries prior to the Board's Decree were 15 and 10 cents an hour respectively.

    The Decree for hotels, restaurants, bars, and soda fountains divided the Island into two zones, and established rates of $10 per week for the first zone (comprised of the larger cities), and $8.50 a week for time second zone. The Decree permits employers to deduct for meals or lodging furnished, at rates fixed by the Board-- but in no case more than 60 cents a day. The Board also fixed standards for lodging and food which the employer must meet, if he charges for these services. Employees may accept or reject any or all of such services. The minimum wage prevailing in this industry prior to the Decree, including the value of services furnished by the employer, was found to be $3.50 per week in the first zone, and $3 per week in the second. An 8-hour day and 48-hour week were established, with double time for overtime.

    Amending the Decree relating to hospitals, clinics and sanatoria, the Board set a basic monthly wage of $25, with breakfast, lunch, dinner, room and laundry furnished free. When any of these various perquisites are lacking; the Decree provides that the basic monthly wage is to be increased by the value of services not received at prices established by the Board. In case no such services are donated, a monthly wage of $42 was fixed.

    Regulations adopted by the Board permit employment of handicapped persons at rites of pay below the prescribed minimum wages, but in no case less than 50 per cent of the minimum. The Board also authorized a graduated monthly salary for learners employed as assistant nurses in hospitals, clinics, and sanatoria, and minimum rates for learners working as assistant nurses, and for students under tile Program of Vocational Education of the Insular Department of Education.

    On September 23, 1943, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico decided that. the retroactive wage payments provided for in the Mandatory Decree of the Board for the sugar industry, were not in accordance with the law. Appeal from this decision was taken on December 22, 1943, to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was pending on June 30, 1944.

    Farm Security Administration
    (Department of Agriculture)

    Since the beginning of the rural rehabilitation program of the Farm Security Administration in Puerto Rico in 1941, a total of 16,272 families have received aid. Of this number, 13,381 cases were active on June 30, 1944. The difference is accounted for as follows: 1,074 cases have been paid up; 1,663 have been dropped; 154 are being held for collection only.

    During 1943-44, the Administration made 6,207 rural rehabilitation loans aggregating $906,915.14. Initial loans totaled 2,268, and supplemental loans, 3,939. Of the amount advanced in initial loans ($361,957.14), 40 per cent. was for farm operating, 40 per cent for capital goods for the farm, and 20 per cent to family living and capital goods for the home. Seventy-two per cent of the initial borrowers own their own land, 11 per cent have purchase contracts, and the remaining 17 per cent are tenants or share croppers.

    Loans totaling $288,298 were made to 55 Farm Ownership clients, thus enabling them to establish their families on their own farms. The average Farm Ownership loan was for $5,241. Supplemental FO loans amounting to $4,657 were made for the purpose of providing additional improvements on farms.

    The year's collection of principal and interest, including $18,592.96 paid on Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration loans, amounted to $1,024,648.69. Rural rehabilitation loan collections came to $873,737.99, and Farm Ownership borrowers paid in $132,297.77.

    Farm and Home Operations grants in the amount of $29,740.23 were made to 1,489 farmers to assist them in purchasing subsistence supplies until they received revenue from the sale of their farm produce. Rural water supply projects, completed during the year with the assistance of the War Emergency Program and the various municipal governments, benefited 831 families. In addition to projects of this kind, the installation of sanitary facilities by individual farmers was encouraged through loans. Attempts were made to organize health service groups among Farm Security Administration borrowers throughout the Island, but the scarcity of doctors and nurses prevented any real accomplishment along this line.

    With the cooperation of the Forest Service, the Experiment Station, and their various nurseries throughout the Island, the Farm Security Administration was able to supply a large number of forestry, ornamental, and fruit tree nursery stock to its clients.

    Sixteen Guernsey heifers; provided by the Brethren Service organization, were distributed to sixteen under-privileged farm families selected by the Farm Security Administration. The animals were assigned to FSA borrowers having large families and no other source of milk. The experience of FSA proves that, with a little supervision, such farmers can successfully care for good grade milk stock.