BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 2, 2020– Prime Minister Dean Barrow held a virtual press conference this afternoon to launch the second phase of the COVID-19 unemployment assistance program. Flanked by two of his Cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister announced that his government also launched a Micro-Small-Medium Enterprises (MSME) program.
In his opening remarks, Barrow said that the MSME initiative can function as a stand-alone program.
Barrow said that research has indicated that 70 percent of private sector employment comes from enterprises that can be categorized as MSME.
“Financing for the program has already been identified”, Barrow disclosed.
“The MSME is a done deal, and because it is the most important of our recovery building blocks, we are unveiling it today”, Barrow went on to say.
Present for the event was Dr. Carla Barnett, who, Barrow said, was the main architect of the MSME. Also present was Minister of Trade, Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton.
The Ministry of Trade and BELTRAIDE also contributed to the MSME finalization, Barrow said.
Dr. Barnett gave an overview of the two initiatives. She explained that the initial COVID-19 unemployment relief program is nearing its conclusion and more than 81,000 persons had applied to receive assistance through the program.
Dr. Barnett said that 45 percent of the persons who were assisted were persons who had lost their employment, and 25 percent were individuals who were self-employed.
In addition, Dr. Barnett explained that they are in contact with the roughly 3,000 persons who have not been paid as yet due to faulty bank information that they provided in their applications. “All of these persons should be paid by the middle of this month”, she said.
By the time phase one of the unemployment assistance program wraps up, 35 million dollars would have been spent, Dr. Barnett said.
Persons who have been classified as the longer-term unemployed and who were unemployed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic will not be able to access stipends through the employment assistance program in the second phase. Rather, these persons will be directed to the Ministry of Human Development so that they can receive other forms of assistance, Dr. Barnett disclosed, adding that they are moving from a focus on softening the effects of unemployment to creating employment through the MSME program.
Dr. Barnett said, “We are setting aside $2 million which will be grants for the MSME program, and $7 million for unemployment to employers who keep their employees’ social security payments up to date, and we will be setting aside $5 million for MSME working capital.”
The MSME comes on-stream on August 1.
Minister Panton said that in addition to the 2 million dollars that has been set aside for the MSME, BELTRAIDE is adding $5,000,000. The interest rate will be 3 percent for two years, Minister Panton said.
CEO in the Ministry of Trade, Duane Belisle, said that the program will run for 3 months.
Belisle said that the National Bank of Belize will serve as the agent for approved applicants to the program.
Training will be provided by BELTRAIDE, CEO Belisle said.
Prime Minister Barrow explained that grants of up to $2,500 will be provided out of the $2 million.