BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 7, 2020– GOB’s unemployment relief program was rolled out on Friday via an online portal, which became so heavily congested with online traffic that the site went down within its first day of operation. It was restored by the following day, however, and continued to see increased activity. It was determined that within a matter of one weekend, about 44,000 Belizeans and counting had already submitted applications to receive the monthly $300 from the government as of Monday, April 6.
Those 44,000 persons are residents living across the entire country, with the majority hailing from Belize City. The initial intent of the relief program, as explained by Coye, was to cater to the mass number of recently unemployed Belizeans who work in the tourism sector and had begun to feel the effects of COVID-19 even before the first case was confirmed in Belize.
However, after consideration, the relief program was extended to all unemployed persons who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, as well as to those who had been unemployed even before the COVID-19 crisis and may not be able to find work due to the countrywide state of emergency that has been enacted since.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow had stated during the declaration of the State of Emergency that a total of $75 million dollars had been allocated to the relief program, and given the number of applicants in the first instance, payouts will amount to nearly $12 million dollars for the first month alone.
Those who have applied will be receiving the funds via direct deposit to their bank accounts and debit cards, as well as through Social Security checks, and will be notified of payment via email or SMS. Dr. Barnett did note that they do expect the number of applicants to increase by the day, but they hope to finish verifying these applications by the end of this week and submit that information to the Social Security Board (SSB) in order for payments to begin by next week.
While unemployed persons have been urged to apply for the financial aid, there is a qualification process that is in effect based on employment information provided by the SSB. Coye noted that of the 44,000 applicants, only 35,000 had qualified to receive the funds thus far.
Applicants were advised to utilize the hotline, as well as the live online chat on the website, to ensure that their applications are being filled out properly. There is also a tutorial video available on the website for further clarity.
Application forms can also be picked up at SSB and filled in manually; however, these claims will take longer to process. Dr. Barnett explained that this is the case because all manual claims must be entered into the portal manually, and there are no social workers readily available to do so due to the state of emergency.
Initially, the program had been designed to last for three months, during which applicants will receive funds twice a month. Dr. Barnett has mentioned, however, that long-term planning for a longer unemployment period is in effect due to the uncertain conditions that may befall the country due to COVID-19.
Feature photo: (l-r) Christopher Coye and Dr. Carla Barnett