Government scrambles fund search for bigger DSWD cash aid

Prinz Magtulis - Philstar.com
Government scrambles fund search for bigger DSWD cash aid
“If everyone will be given the second tranche (of aid), we will really need a bigger funding,” Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said in a text message on Friday evening.
Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — A last-minute government scramble to search for more funds to assist 23 million poor households is creating confusion and delaying much-needed assistance for people displaced by the coronavirus outbreak and state-initiated lockdowns.

The problem emanates from the Duterte administration’s abrupt decision to include 5 million more households to the original 17.96 million families the government long programmed to assist for April and May, beneficiaries who have not been entirely reached by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“If everyone will be given the second tranche (of aid), we will really need a bigger funding,” Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said in a text message on Friday evening.

It was unclear how much more money is needed, especially since DSWD already holds the complete P205-billion budget for the social amelioration program since the middle of April. All would have been smooth sailing from there, until presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced last week an additional 5 million household beneficiaries, which in effect also increases the program’s budget needs.

To make matters worse, an initial plan to only assist areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and exclude places under general community quarantine (GCQ) is currently being reconsidered, especially since doing so would appear to violate Republic Act No. 11469 mandating assistance for “two months.”

Avisado admitted that if GCQ areas are excluded on the last batch of subsidies, savings would be generated, allowing the government to finance the new beneficiaries. “That was the original plan,” he said.

From May 16 to May 31, only 10 areas including Metro Manila, Cebu City and Bataan are placed under ECQ, or the modified version of it that relaxed some restrictions on business operations. The rest of the country are under a looser GCQ as cases of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) on these areas show some abating.

A final decision is yet to be made, but Roque over the weekend told dzBB that one option to consider aid in GCQ would be to pass a supplemental budget, something the budget department and the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) had already rejected. “Our stand, as well as BTr, is there would not be a supplemental budget without a new revenue source,” Budget Undersecretary Laura Pascua said in a text message on Monday.

The confusion on where to source additional funds is creating a new roadblock on DSWD’s much-delayed distribution of cash assistance to the poor disadvantaged by the coronavirus pandemic. DSWD Director Irene Dumlao admitted the agency’s hands are tied as far as the second batch of aid is concerned, without clearer directives from the Office of the President.

“We need to be guided if we will provide (cash aid) still to areas declared under GCQ. That is why we need a written directive on that,” she said in a Viber message to reporters.

As it is, the entire process was already pushed back. Dumlao said DSWD cannot distribute the final tranche of aid without the first batch fully accounted for, and as of May 16, nearly 5% of targeted families are yet to receive cash, and about P3 billion of the first P100 billion was yet to be spent.

As of last Friday, Dumlao said 140 liquidation reports were already in. DSWD has 15 days from receipt to validate the reports, but Dumlao did not say if the agency had completed any validation as of last Friday.

“Note that we conduct eligibility check and deduplication,” she said.

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