Cash aid
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 3, 2020 - 12:00am

In theory, giving people some cash aid to help tide them over this crisis will help not only to put food on their tables but also keep the economy churning somehow. The big problem is we have no easy way of getting that cash assistance to those who need it most.

Government has set aside some P200 billion to help families in dire need because they lost jobs or lost livelihoods when the lockdown was imposed. But as we end the third week, that money has not moved.

Some 18 million low-income Filipino households are supposed to receive P5,000 to P8,000 a month for two months, under the recently signed Bayanihan Act. But these folks will have to wait until government is able to fix the database needed to determine who are entitled and where they are and how they can get the money.

In President Duterte’s report on the implementation of the Bayanihan Act, he said the DOF will provide technical assistance to the DSWD in forming a consolidated database that will host COVID-19 social amelioration programs.

“The database will be derived from existing beneficiary lists submitted by government agencies and LGUs (local government units), and will be used to determine the subsidy amounts for household beneficiaries,” President Duterte reported.

The finance department is also supposed to coordinate with the Inter-Agency Task Force working group to handle the mapping of beneficiaries as well as how much subsidy will be transferred. Duterte did not say when the database will be completed.

The DOLE, on the other hand, announced that some 200,000 workers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown have been given the one-time P5,000 cash assistance. All employees, regardless of employment status are covered by the financial assistance, if they are unable to work due to the community quarantine.

Workers who can avail of the P5,000 one-time assistance would be based on the payroll list submitted to the DOLE by their employers. The cash aid has been released to more than 6,000 establishments.

But if their employers refuse to seek help for them, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they can go straight to them at DOLE for the one-time cash aid.

I wonder how many workers can really avail of this benefit. I am sure DOLE is also still cleaning up its database.

The truth is millions of displaced workers are falling through the cracks of our safety net. Many of these workers are neither registered with the DOLE nor the SSS and therefore cannot be identified for welfare payments.

And what do you do with self-employed like barbers, carinderia moms, manicurists, handymen, gardeners, jeepney barkers, freelancers, etc. Jeepney and tricycle drivers can probably be traced through LTFRB registrations.

Actually, we have been exchanging ideas in one of my Viber groups on the best way of getting the cash aid to the families in need. Many of these guys have worked in government and are familiar with how things get done in the bureaucracy.

But there had been no agreement on the best and the fastest means of getting the money down to those in most need. The only consensus was that CCT beneficiaries should get their regular allowances right away. There is an existing “listahan” of CCT beneficiaries.

A suggestion was tabled that all endo workers hired through agencies should continue to get their salaries advanced by the employer and reimbursed by government through tax credits. At least employers know who their workers are.

Using the barangays is also one option strongly considered. But fears were expressed that the barangay officials may favor just their supporters and use the money for political purposes.

There’s a real danger the money will be politicized. But the barangay can be required to be extra transparent on who gets how much by posting names. People know each other at that level and all those eyes watching may be sufficient deterrent for hanky panky.

If we had the national ID system working, identifying beneficiaries might have been easier. The closest we have is the Comelec voters list and that’s probably what the barangays should use.

Eventually, we should be able to cascade similar assistance through the phone companies using their payment systems registered with the national ID. That will also be an incentive for people to register their prepaid phones.

Whatever government decides to use to bring the cash aid down to the beneficiaries, they should do it as fast as possible. It won’t be a perfect system but it is an emergency… hungry tummies can’t wait too long.

In the meantime, our people are pretty much surviving through the good graces of private sector companies like San Miguel that had been giving food aid to those in need. SMC food assistance worth P181 million had been delivered in poor communities in Metro Manila and Luzon provinces over the last two weeks.

Some half a million families have received assorted food products such as canned goods, meat products, biscuits and breads, coffee, and milk. Another 500,000 kilos of rice have also been donated by San Miguel to poor communities throughout Metro Manila.

Government must also up its game in food logistics. We may see more people going hungry not because they can’t afford to buy food but because there isn’t much food to buy.

It is such a pity to see pictures of nice delicious vegetables being thrown by disappointed farmers because they can’t bring their produce to markets. Yet, here we are going to our supermarkets daily and frustrated that they hardly have fresh fruits and vegetables to sell.

All those checkpoints are causing havoc to the supply chains of companies in the food business. The IATF knows the problem and has said they will do something but problems persist at ground level.

So many things to do, correctly and efficiently. We hope the new head of the overall task force will do better.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

CASH AID
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