Work mostly back, but DSWD not yet done giving out pandemic aid

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Work mostly back, but DSWD not yet done giving out pandemic aid
Earlier this year, President Duterte ordered DSWD to spearhead the government’s P205-billion cash aid program for the poor. The project, crafted to assist the poor staying home during the quarantine period, grants between P5,000 and P8,000 to each family, depending on regional location.
Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — Second tranche was not the charm for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) whose speed in distributing aid to the poor worsened in the final batch of cash that should have already reached all intended beneficiaries.

As of July 15, only 2.1 million beneficiaries of social amelioration program have been assisted, accounting for just 17.4% of the DSWD’s 17-million targeted families, majority of whom reside in areas under enhanced community quarantine.

At that level, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista said on Wednesday only P12.2 billion of the P100 billion allotted for the program has been disbursed. This means that the bulk of funds remain in the hands of DSWD, which earlier decided to no longer seek assistance from local governments in handing out cash.

“Here’s the challenge now, DSWD was not the only government agency that provides SAP... There were cases during the first tranche wherein some beneficiaries received double payments,” Bautista said.

“We're avoiding that from happening again because we want more families to receive financial assistance,” he added.

But while the more centralize approach was supposedly meant to speed up the process, the opposite happened. DSWD has so far failed to credit money to at least its entire 4.3 million beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps), who are easily identified and reached. At the current rate, the agency is distributing aid slower this time than during the first tranche.

In the first tranche, the agency successfully deposited the one-time cash assistance to 4Ps recipients few days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the social safety net. The program grants between P5,000 and P8,000 to each poor family, depending on regional location, as a form of protection against potential job losses and business disruptions from lockdowns.

But aid disbursement suffered from so many delays. In fact, it was so slow that the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which authorized the subsidy, already expired last June 25 yet DSWD remained far from getting the job done. 

Slower this time

The first tranche distribution, involving 17.96 million families, was finished only after nearly three months from March. As for the second tranche, the first month of disbursement ends on Wednesday with DSWD barely touching the surface.

This should not have happened, especially after DSWD announced that the agency has partnered with digital payments firms like PayMaya and GCash to avoid a repeat of the sluggish process of getting the initial aid out.

But Bautista said the problem this time occurs beyond the manual aid distribution. He blamed the delays on local government units (LGUs) which have not liquidated the initial P100 billion used to fund the program. According to Bautista, only 1,333 LGUs of 1,684 “completed” their reports as of Wednesday.

Liquidation is an audit requirement that needs to be fulfilled before more money can be spent. The problem, nonetheless, is also compounded by a slow “deduplication” process, wherein the list of beneficiaries is cleaned to avoid “double payments” that happened during the first handouts.

“We are really making an appeal to all LGUs because until now there are some who have not yet submitted their liquidation reports,” Bautista said.

Despite the delays, the DSWD chief has set a “conservative” goal of reaching 80% of cash aid recipients by month’s end, with 700,000 beneficiaries expected to receive their assistance “today or tomorrow (Thursday).”

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