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Gov’t strengthens social protection for persons affected by the pandemic

Gov’t strengthens social protection for persons affected by the pandemic
CAMILLO GONSALVES

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The government will extend its income support programme for workers displaced by the COVID19 pandemic for an additional three months.

However, unlike in the past 12 months where funding for the programme was split between the Central Government and the National Insurance Services (NIS), the government will bear the full cost of the intervention in the upcoming quarter.

Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves gave an update this week on several interventions that have been made by the government, designed to strengthen social protections for the vulnerable, and assist persons affected by the pandemic.

He also provided an update on some of these social and economic interventions, which have either been introduced or extended into coming months.

“The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has offered an extended programme of income support to Vincentians in the formal sector who have been laid off or who have had their hours of work reduced as a result of the COVID related cutbacks at their employers,” Gonsalves announced.

This programme was initially implemented in April 2020 intended to last for three-months. It has seen several extensions since then and is in its 12th month of implementation.

Gonsalves said that as of February 26, the NIS’s Temporary Benefit programme has paid out $2.7 million for 2241 individual claims, while the government has paid out an additional $7.1 million in claims from the hospitality sector under a Displacement Supplementary Income programme.

The government’s $7.1 million pay-out accounts for $4.6 million to 3894 claims in the Hospitality sector and $2.5 million to 2325 claims from seafarers and oil rig workers.

“As at the 26 February, these programmes have paid a total of $9, 826,350 to 8460 claims. The government has decided to extend the programme for another quarter through the end of June 2021. However, the NIS no longer has the flexibility to continue funding its portion of the initiative within the scope of its own prudential guidelines,” Gonsalves said in Parliament on Tuesday.

“The current administrative arrangements remain unchanged and we would like to thank, on record, the management, the leadership and the board of the National Insurance Services for their tremendous solidarity and patriotism in partnering with the government on this initiative over the past 12 months, particularly in the nine-month extension beyond the originally forecast duration of the programme,” he added.

The Finance Minister also said commercial banks, in collaboration with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and regional governments, have agreed to extend the loan moratorium programme until September 2021.

According to data from the ECCB, the commercial banking sector in SVG is currently reporting that 1642 loans are currently utilising the moratorium here. These 1642 loans have a total value of $337 million.

Gonsalves said the government will make payments to omnibuses at the end of this month.

Omnibuses licensed to carry 18 passengers and below will receive a payment of $500 while larger buses will receive $600.
According to the Finance Minister, government initially intended to make two monthly payments to omnibuses, as a means of supplementing the loss of transporting a smaller capacity of persons in recent months.

However, he noted that the Vincentian Transport Association (VINTAS) has countered with a request to carry more passengers in lieu of the second monthly payment.

“So, we will pay the payment at the end of March to deal with the limited capacity that took place in the previous month and we will engage further on whether or not there will be an increased capacity or second monthly payment to offset any further reductions therefrom,” Gonsalves said.

Vendors who have been adversely affected by the extended closure of schools will also receive a pay-out from the government at the end of March.

Gonsalves said in his statement on Tuesday that “even with schools set to resume after the Easter holiday, the government is cognisant of the unique challenges faced by these school dependent vendors. As such, it is repeating its earlier two months subsidy to those vendors and small shops located in the immediate vicinity of schools”.

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