COVID-19 Grants: Good Ideas, Weak Implementation

In the wake of the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has deemed it necessary to make available to the public a number of grants for persons without a source of income. These grants include relief for salaries, rent assistance and food aid. While these grants are a welcome break for people who depend on their jobs for sustainence, as is often the case, the implementation of these policies have left much to be desired.

As you peruse the comments under the news articles and other posts about the grants on social media, you would find a number of people at any given time complaining about the quality of service and the puzzling requirements and conditions for accessing the grants. To begin with, in order to be eligible a person must be paying NIS while also not having another source of income. Employer must be registered with NIB.

Another major issue is the sheer amount of beaureaucracy involved. The registration process requires the applicant to download a form for the previous or current employers to fill out. These forms will then be sent in to the Ministry of Finance with the relevant documents where the applicant will then wait to have her/his information verified by the National Insurance Board. One can imagine this to be a very cumbersome process. Aside from the fact that the NIB is one of the slowest government agencies in existence, having to vet each individual application form will no doubt put a strain on the limited manpower available at this time.

Instead, the MSJ recommends that the responsibility should be on the employer to provide a complete payroll of all employees and their salaries in order to cut down on the amount of time and resources spent verifying the authenticity of each application. Secondly, a designated department within a government ministry (ideally the Ministry of Labour) should take on this task of dealing with applicants and their employers. Once the payrolls are verified then payments will be sent directly to the employee’s bank account instead of the employer’s. In the event that the employee does not have a bank account then cheques can be made available at the Ministry of Finance. A similar process has been executed in countries such as Denmark and Canada to the satisfaction of the workers in those countries.

It should also be mentioned that with the current system we have in place, at no time has the government given any timeline as to when applicants can expect payment. Are we going to see payments made within the week, or longer? It is disturbing to think that people will be left uncertain for weeks, if not months as is usually the case with our government beaureaucracies.

There is also a grant available for self-employed persons. The problem is that many workers who fall within that bracket (taxi drivers, market vendors, etc.) have difficulties keeping records of their income and expendature. We expect that these persons in particular will have great difficulty accessing compensatoin, especially those persons who lack bank accounts and cannot get bank statements.

Where the welfare of our workers are concerned, the government must seriously rethink its implementation process. The Heritage and Stabilisation Fund is limited and must be used as wisely as possible.

As with all social programmes made possible by our state, the threat of political victimisation is ever present. For the most egregious display of politicisation during this crisis look no further than the School Feeding Programme Grant. The family must first be registered under the School Feeding Programme. All registered persons will then be contacted by their MP, and they will collect their assistance only when called.

Why is it up to the MP to determine who is eligible to be fed? As with foods cards, housing and other state benefits, it is a macabre thing to use food as a political tool. We can only presume that this means punishment for people not supporting the party being represented by the MP’s whether they be government or opposition MP’s. Instead, we are recommending that a unit within the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Social Development be established to handle the responsibiliy of making sure our schoolchildren are fed.

Our final segment covering this topic will focus on the workers of our country who have been deemed to be “essential”. Before COVID-19 reached our shores these workers (in particular those who work for the minimum wage including grocery workers, sanitaion workers and cleaners, etc.) have been met with much derision and disrespect by the country at large. The fact that it took a global crisis for us to understand their worth as workers and as human beings speaks volumes about our attitude towards so-called “blue collar” jobs. While this crisis is an urgent call for all hands to be on deck, we hope that the persons who work in these jobs remember how important their contributions were so that they can bargain for better wages once this situation is under control.

In closing we wish to urge the government to review the conditions of these grants and fast track this service for those most in need.

Welcome to the Justice Newsletter

“Everyone wants peace, but no one is crying out for justice” – Peter Tosh

There is a lot happening in our country and all around the world. Injustice is everywhere and although we are willing to confront it, the working people of T&T have found it difficult to unite against racial division; in addition to the other types of discrimination that have held us back as a nation.

This newsletter aims to inspire and educate a new generation of conscious activists seeking an end to the status quo. We would like all of our readers to understand the historical and social context that have produced our struggles today, as we seek to break down the barriers that divide us.

Look out for new articles every month, and be sure to follow us on social media.

A luta continua!