All eyes on DSWD as DBM completes release of P200 billion for cash aid

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
All eyes on DSWD as DBM completes release of P200 billion for cash aid
The long-planned mass testing is finally taking off as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached 4,932, with the death toll now at more than 300, according to data released by the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday. Recoveries totaled 242.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The entire fund for the government’s flagship cash aid program for the poor during the coronavirus outbreak is now at the disposal of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the budget department said.

On Thursday, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released the notices of cash allocation for funds worth P96.04 billion to DSWD “to cover the cash requirements for the implementation of the social amelioration program,” data on the agency’s website showed.

NCAs are issued by DBM to banks holding the accounts of state agencies. Once issued, the banks are now authorized to issue checks to the offices concerned, the amounts in which are chargeable to their budgets at the Bureau of the Treasury. A check issuance means funds are already deemed disbursed.

With the latest fund release, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said DBM has completed releasing the full P200-billion budget for DSWD’s cash subsidy project. Prior to the latest allocation, P100 billion was released to DSWD in April 2, and before that, Avisado said around P3.96 billion was already posted in advance. 

“We just had to release it early because they (DSWD) would still prepare the distribution scheme for the aid, so we can also prevent delays,” Avisado said in a text message. 

The development means DSWD is now in full control of the funds, and may decide when and how to spend it to reach the agency's 17.96 million household beneficiaries who have been waiting for aid for three weeks now. As of Friday morning, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said "around 90%" of the first tranche of P100 billion are already with local governments, which in turn should facilitate house-to-house distribution.

Aid distribution can prove to be tedious and tasking, prompting DSWD to delay validating if recipients are qualified for the assistance until the program is completed. Nograles said people who will be found unqualified for aid in the first place, will have to “refund” the government the subsidy worth between P5,000 and P8,000 each later. 

As of April 11, the latest period on which data is provided, DSWD had credited directly P16.35 billion in subsidies to 3.72 million conditional cash transfer (CCT) beneficiaries, which receives the aid on top of their regular monthly allowance. Outside CCT, only P335 million had been distributed to an unspecified number of recipients. 

“If funds are still not enough, DSWD can request for additional money from us,” Avisado said in Filipino.

DOH gets money for more testing kits

Apart from DSWD’s assistance program, DBM already put P1.9 billion of funds available for the health department to spend on additional testing kits for the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).

In a statement, DBM said the money will cover the funding requirements for the procurement of Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test kits for 68 laboratories DOH is accrediting to conduct COVID-19 tests. As of April 15, 16 of these labs are already online.

The additional RT-PCR kits should allow the country to conduct an estimated 918,000 tests, the DBM said.

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