CABINET Secretary Karlo Nograles on Monday said pensioners, whether senior citizens or persons with disability (PWDs), are excluded from list of qualified beneficiaries of the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) which provides cash aid to about 18 million individuals affected by the month-long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in Luzon.
The Bayanihan We Heal as One Act, which Congress passed in a special session to boost government’s financial resources to battle the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19, mandated the SAP grant. It is intended to benefit workers affected by work closures caused by movement restrictions under the ECQ.
Nograles said pensioners, like senior citizens and persons with disability (PWDs), are excluded from the list of beneficiaries even if they belong to the vulnerable sectors.
He reiterated the social amelioration fund of P5,000 to P8,000 is intended for low-income families and poor households.
Nograles’ statement came amid changing statements from government leaders involved in the distribution of the cash assistance.
SAP beneficiaries are estimated to include 18 million poor Filipino families, including beneficiaries of the government’s Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
Under a joint memorandum circular issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the qualified beneficiaries of the amelioration aid are families assessed to be most affected by the declaration of the enhanced community quarantine with at least one member belonging to vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors.
The sectors include senior citizens, persons with disability, pregnant and lactating women, solo parents, indigents, indigenous people, underprivileged sectors and homeless citizens, public transportation, drivers, informal economy workers whether directly hired, occasional worker, or sub-contracted workers, home workers, house helpers, operators of sari-sari store and the like, family enterprise owners, those operating or managing small businesses like retail food production, vending, eateries, fruit, vegetable, and other street vendors, sub-minimum wage earners, and employees affected by ‘no work, no pay’ policy.
In previous media briefings, Nograles had said that all qualified individuals or families, even if they live in one household, are entitled to the cash grant.
In a separate press conference, however, he clarified each household is entitled to only one financial assistance, no matter how many families are living together under one roof.
In earlier briefings, there was also no any mention that those already getting pensions will be excluded from the list of qualified recipients.
Also on Monday, Justine Batocabe, DSWD Director for National Housing Targeting Office, said 4Ps beneficiaries will not receive the whole P5,000 to P8,000 amelioration as they are still receiving their monthly 4Ps subsidy.,
He said if the 4Ps beneficiary would only receive an additional amount on top of their regular aid.
He cited as example a 4P beneficiary from Metro Manila who is already receiving a regular subsidy of P3,000 a month. He said to receive the P8,000 amelioration aid given to Metro Manila poor families, the 4P beneficiary would then receive an additional P5,000 on top of their regular P3,000 monthly aid.
WHO ARE EXCLUDED FROM THE AID?
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate asked the government to simply identify those who are excluded from the COVID-19 emergency subsidy package to avoid confusion as to who are qualified to receive the social amelioration aid.
“This will certainly fast-track the process and our already severely affected, even hungry people, will no longer wait for long,” the militant lawmaker said, pointing out that those who are not entitled to receive are fewer and easier to count.
Assuming there are currently 20 million families nationwide and P200 billion is intended for 18 million families for two months, Zarate said the P18 million families represent 90 percent of the total families nationwide who are the target recipients.
Based on the current practice, he said 4Ps beneficiaries only comprise 10 percent of the two million families representing the poorest of the poor, while the supposed assistance in the wake of the enactment of the TRAIN law, targeted 10 million families.
“Our suggestion from Bayan Muna, instead of identifying the 18 million eligible families, (we) might as well, reverse the process. The Government should identify the houses of those two million families belonging to the rich and the richest of the rich, that are not eligible for the assistance,” Zarate said.
Zarate said this would mean that almost all families in almost all communities will be eligible for social assistance.
As it is, the ongoing process of the DSWD and local government units (LGUs), he said, “entails a very complicated bureaucratic red tape.”
“This will result to much delay in the release of this much needed assistance to hungry Filipinos. Up till now they are still on the process of identifying the “poor” families, eligible for the P5,000 to P8,000 aid,” he said.
Zarate said that based on the research data of the IBON Foundation, out of the 18 million households that government acknowledged as needing assistance, only 0.04 percent (6,314 beneficiaries) received cash, food, and non-food aid from the DSWD while only 1.1 percent received 194,467 food packs prepared for maybe two to three days.
“Government should also release the total cash aid house to house. This is the fastest way that the cash reaches the pockets of the people because the longer they stay on the coffers of officials, the more prone it is to corruption,” Zarate said.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the DSWD should cut the red tape and simplify its guidelines for the release of the government subsidy.
“We (lawmakers) uncomplicated it by proposing four steps,” the Speaker said in Facebook live video, adding that House leaders kept in touch with DSWD officials through online platforms.
Cayetano appealed to the public to be patient and for those with means to help those who are most in need.
He said it is possible that the P200 billion fund for the emergency subsidy program may be insufficient because the number of recipients is based on the census undertaken last 2015.
“It (funds) may insufficient,” he said. “This is where we appeal to the public because the whole of government approach is not enough here. This is really an all of the people approach.”
Based on the memorandum circulars issued by the DSWD, Cayetano said it may take 10 days for the poor families to receive the subsidies.
Cayetano said the House leadership is closely working with the DSWD to simplify the steps in a unified guideline by taking out all the unnecessary steps.
One step the Speaker wants removed is the requirement for beneficiaries to sign a document as proof that they have received their subsidies.
He said that aside from unnecessarily lengthening the process, it may even spread the deadly virus because of the use of a ball pen that will be passed around recipients.
“There’ nothing wrong in appealing to the Commission on Audit (to allow the DSWD to bypass this step) but we can’t blame the DSWD, because in the past, they were the ones who were charged if there were no receipts,” Cayetano said.
The Speaker proposed that instead of requiring recipients to sign, DSWD workers may take photos of the recipient families in the act of receiving the cash subsidies.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the DOLE needs more funds to ensure that the close to two million formal sector workers affected by work stoppages, those who lost their income, and those who received reduced wages due to the ECQ are provided financial subsidy.
Bello, during the Laging Handa public briefing, said based on the projections of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), an estimated 1.8 million private sector workers are affected by the lockdown.
“We are expecting that 1.8 million workers would be affected, so maybe, we will need to ask for additional budget allotment from the national government,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.
Nograles, in a separate briefing, said government will “top up” the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) funds to accommodate more formal sector workers.
Nograles said the public, especially formal sector workers, should not worry as government is already looking for ways to augment the fund.
Bello said the DOLE had already started distributing a one-time P5,000 financial assistance under the CAMP to formal sector workers, or those who had employers or working for companies which experienced reduced income or worked under a “no work, no pay” schemes.
He said to date, P514 million had already been released and benefited 102,855 formal sector workers. The employers had submitted their list of employees to the DOLE which will be the basis for the onetime P5,000 aid.
Bello said DOLE had also released P107 million that benefited 72,703 informal workers or those that had been given 10-day employment through the barangays. These workers were paid based on the existing minimum wage in the regions they belong to.
The labor chief said DOLE is still in the process of releasing subsidies worth P579 million for the formal sector and P963 million more informal sector workers.
EXTENDED `CAMP’ if ECQ IS EXTENDED
Bello said DOLE will recommend the extension of the CAMP if the ECQ is extended.
“If there is an extension of the enhanced community quarantine, the DOLE will recommend for the extension of the program of cash assistance, it will be recommended to IATF,” Bello said.
In a separate interview, DOLE – Information and Publication Service Director Rolly Francia said the extension of the CAMP will aim to cover more qualified workers.
“So far, our field offices have already received applications covering 597,000 workers or more than 95 percent of those reported by establishments,” said Francia. – With Wendell Vigilia and Gerard Naval