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solo parents
Solo parents are some of the strongest people in the world, but they can’t do it alone—especially during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Aditya Romansa via Unsplash

Hope for solo parents: A new bill that provides more benefits and financial aid

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - February 22, 2021 - 4:52pm

Bilib ako sa single parents. I have many friends who face the challenge of raising kids on their own, and I am in awe of their daily balancing act. NayTay sila—Nanay at Tatay—and despite the exhaustion, pressure and the emotional load of dealing with everything on their own, they do their best to create a happy and nurturing environment for their kids.

The rights of a single parent

Solo parents are some of the strongest people in the world, but they can’t do it alone—especially during the current COVID-19 crisis.

A UNICEF report on how the pandemic has affected Filipino households says that nearly all respondents experienced "severe financial consequences." They are more worried about how to pay for food, education and bills than the actual virus. That’s true even for two-income households—more so a solo parent, who is the only breadwinner. 

Ramon Magsaysay said, “Those who have less in life should have more in law.” How can solo parents get benefits and financial support? What are their rights under the Solo Parent Welfare Act?

I invited Rep. Lawrence Fortun (District 1, Agusan del Norte) to talk about these. He is the author of HB 907, which aims to improve the coverage of the original Solo Parent Welfare Act (RA 8972), so that it has more benefits, and more solo parents can qualify for it. You can watch the full interview on PamilyaTalk, but here are some of the changes that I’m personally excited to see.

In my interview, Congressman Lawrence Fortun (District 1, Agusan del Norte) reported that there has been an increase in the number of solo parents in the country today.


It recognizes the many faces of solo parenting

Solo parents don’t just include people who have been widowed or legally separated, but anyone who has to raise a child alone. This can include women who never married the father of their child, or whose partner has abandoned the familyor can no longer work because of physical disability or detainment.

Solo parents can also mean relatives who have assumed the responsibility of raising the child. They may not have given birth to him or formally adopted him, but they still act as the Nanay and Tatay in the deepest sense of the word.

That’s why HB 907 is expanding the definition of “solo parent” to reflect the many faces—or even the stages—of parenting. For example, the new Welfare Act will allow a mom to apply for a card during pregnancy, to help her pay for pre-natal supplements, lab tests and doctor’s bills.

It considers current costs of living

RA 8972 was passed in 2000—that’s twenty years ago! And to qualify for it, solo parents had to earn less than P8,000 a month.

But because of cost of living, even parents who earn twice that amount can still struggle to make ends meet. HB 907 is increasing the coverage to parents who earn less than P250,000 a year, or about P20,000 a month.

It provides educational opportunities for kids—and parents!

Rep. Fortun says that HB 907 will provide more specific educational benefits. Solo parents will get a scholarship plan for at least one child, and their children will also be prioritized in the government’s education programs.

Other assistance—transportation allowance, discounts on school supplies—will be extended up to when the child is 21 years old. "Previously, the cap for educational aid was 18 years old. But because of K-12, we recognize that children will be in school for a longer period,” explains Fortun.

Image by Steven Van Loy via Unsplash


And now, even the parents themselves can get TESDA scholarships so they can learn a skill or trade. Personally, I think this is one of the best features of the revised bill. It can help someone who lost their job during the pandemic, or had to drop out of school to take care of their child. A skill can help get them a steady source of income.

It provides access to free medical care

Solo parents can get free medical and dental services, and free diagnostic and laboratory services in government facilities. They can also get discounts on services and tests at private hospitals. During disasters and calamities, they can also get social safety assistance.

It provides stronger support for the first three years

“Saan ako kukuha ng pambili ng gatas?” That’s a real fear of solo parents of babies or toddlers, especially if their ex does not give any kind of financial support.

HB 907 can help lighten the financial load during the first three years. Parents can get discounts on milk, food and micronutrient supplements, diapers, prescribed medicines, vaccines, and even children’s clothing.

It gives discounts for basic goods and services

Solo parents will get discounts on public transportation fares, water and electricity bills, some basic commodities, restaurants, hotels and recreational facilities. They will also get additional benefits and privileges from GSIS, SSS, and PAG-IBIG. They just need to show the ID card—establishments are required to honor it, and can be fined up to P100,000 if they refuse.

However, if a person has both a Solo Parent ID and a Senior’s Citizen or PWD ID, they have to choose which one to use for that particular purchase. The discounts can’t be added up—for example, you don’t get 25% discount because one card gave you 10% and other gave you 15%.

It supports solo parents in the workplace

It’s hard for anyone to juggle work and family, but solo parents have it even harder because they can’t rely on a partner to “tag team” with. Sometimes they have to skip work to bring a sick child to the doctor and attend a school event—and what do they do if they can’t find a relative or neighbor who can babysit?

We need more “solo-parent friendly” workplaces. Actually, this is already part of the law—both the Solo Parents Welfare Act and the Family Code mandate offices to have childcare centers and places where moms can pump their breastmilk. Solo parents are also entitled to an additional seven days of paid parental leaves, on top of whatever privileges they have under existing laws.

But not all companies comply, and some of them even avoid hiring solo parents completely. They want to avoid the additional costs and benefits—it’s workplace discrimination, but they’ll argue that they’re just trying to survive, especially if the pandemic has hurt their profits.

That’s why HB 907 will give business incentives: private entities that employ at least 10 solo parents are entitled to additional deductions from their gross income. It helps absorb some of the company’s costs, and encourages them to open more jobs for solo parents.

It brings several agencies together

The Solo Parent Welfare Act provides a comprehensive package of social welfare benefits from many government agencies: DSWD, CHED, DSWD, CHED, TESDA, DTI and more. It’s the proverbial village that’s working together to help raise a child—proving that going “solo” doesn’t mean you have to handle everything alone.

It makes it easier to apply for an ID

The Solo Parent Welfare Act has been around since 2000, but most people don’t know how or where to apply for the benefits.

Rep. Fortun says that they plan to assign people in every LGU (including a licensed social worker) who can help solo parents with the application process, and answer any questions they may have. They will also be given a list of detailed documents and requirements. For the other details, you can watch the highlights of our interview on my YouTube Channel.

No child left behind

HB 907 has been passed by Congress, and is now being reviewed by the Senate. Rep. Fortun hopes that it will be finalized before the end of the year.

I hope that this bill doesn’t get delayed, and it will be passed into law before the politicians become too concerned with campaigning for the elections. Shout-out to the Senate: bilisan niyo! This means a lot to millions of families—and can make a big difference in the life of a child.

I also hope that it’s properly implemented. The devil is in the details; even if it looks great on paper, the proof is in how easy it will be for solo parents to get the promised benefits. If they can’t, then that means their child loses their chance for better education, medical care, and food security.

No child should be left behind.

 

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I’d love to hear from you! Share your stories and tips or suggest topics at jingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow my social media accounts: Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Kumu.

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