BELIZE CITY, Fri. June 12, 2020– The COVID-19 Economic Oversight Team has released a “Summary Report of the government’s unemployment relief program, which was designed to assist persons who lost their employment due to the pandemic.”
The team was headed by Dr. Carla Barnett, representing Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the governing United Democratic Party, while Chris Coye represented the Leader of the Opposition, the People’s United Party.
Initially, the unemployment relief program was designed to assist tourism sector workers who had lost their jobs, but PM Barrow and the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, had agreed that the program could be extended to other sectors of the economy as things unfolded.
Displaced workers would receive $300 per month for three months and persons who had been unemployed for an extended period that started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic would receive $200. An online portal was set up to facilitate the application process, which was administered by the Belize Social Security Board, which was also assigned to dispense payments.
In the little over two months during which the program was accessible to those who believed that they qualified for the assistance, a total of 81,052 applications were received, up to April 24, when the portal for accepting applications was closed.
“It should be noted that approximately 4,750 vendors have been approved already, including vendors of tacos and other sellers of food, art and craft, clothes, etc,” the report said.
The report continued saying, “Up to June 5, a total of 44,552 applications have been approved by the Economic Oversight Team and have been passed to CITO for transmission to SSB for payment. Of these, approximately 45% were recently laid-off persons; 24% were self-employed persons who lost their work; and 31% applied as long-term unemployed persons.”
The report said that 94 percent of approved applicants have been paid; the remaining 6 percent have been classified as unpayable due to insufficient bank information, but attempts are being made to obtain correct payment information.
“Total funds paid out up to the end of May is $15.8 million, including approximately $133,000 in bank charges. Projected payments for 3 months to those who have been approved so far total $34.1 million. If all remaining applications were to be approved, the total costs would approximate $66 million to pay every applicant for a 3-month period,” said the report.
The 5-page report is dated June 8, and makes some recommendation to government if the program is to continue.
“The priority categories of unemployed persons may change as the economy continues to be affected. An effective mix of social safety net and employment protection should be the objective. The program so far has been implemented to provide a minimum income to those who have lost their jobs,” stated the report.
The report went on to suggest, “In another phase, consideration can be given to introducing changes that would promote employment retention. One option is to engage employers – especially in tourism – in an arrangement to pay them per employee retained, so that they pay their employees and keep their employees’ Social Security contributions up to date.”
“A specific program for support of small business, in particular, should be considered, whether as a part of this program or as a separate initiative. Many small businesses are owner-operated and do not join the self-employed option of the Social Security Board. Many do not have access to the banks or credit unions. A structured program to provide emergency financing to small business and to offer business support is key to keeping this sector alive as the economy grows,” the report said.
Feature photo: Dr. Carla Barnett