A total of 2,596 Vincentians are receiving income support through the displacement supplementary income or the unemployment benefit, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves told Parliament on Monday.
“These 2,596 Vincentians represent 82% of the 3,164 claims that have been filed to date. Many of the unpaid claims are awaiting additional supporting documentation while some have been rejected on various grounds,” he told lawmakers in a ministerial statement.
The minister said 60% of the beneficiaries of these two programmes are women, and that 66% of the beneficiaries are under the age of 44.
On average, these programmes replaced approximately 30% of the beneficiaries’ pre-pandemic wages, he told lawmakers and media audiences, as he spoke in Parliament.
The minister said that as the Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced in his March 25 national address, the National Insurance Services (NIS) has provided a prepayment of two months pension benefits for all categories of pensioners.
This was to facilitate upfront costs of pensioners at this time and benefited 8,189 pensioners.
The finance minister said that as of June 12, the government had paid displacement supplementary income to 1,496 Vincentians.
“These 1,496 Vincentians were affected by closures in the hospitality sector. To date, the roughly $300 monthly payment to these 1,496 Vincentians has cost the government $1.02 million,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that as of June 12, an additional 1,100 Vincentians have received a similar EC$300 per month via the unemployment benefit offered by the NIS.
“This programme has paid just over EC$600,000 to date. In total, therefore, 2,596 Vincentians are currently receiving income support through either the displacement supplementary income or the unemployment benefit.”
Further, workers in the informal sector, particularly vendors in towns and those who traditionally are dependent on trade adjacent to schools, are eligible for interim assistance benefits of EC$300 per month for three months.
“A special window was created to make a one-off payment of $300 to hand cart operators. In total, 1,644 informal sector workers inclusive of 105 handcart operators have received interim assistance benefits.”
Gonsalves said that to date, those benefits have cost approximately EC$460,000.
Additionally, a further 60 vendors who traditionally ply their trade along the sea wall running from Little Tokyo to Rose Place in Kingstown were given a compensation package of EC$4,500 each to remove their structures and vacate the seawall area as a prelude to the construction of the modern port and cargo terminal.
The compensation, totalling EC$275,000, makes provision for three months’ income support of EC$715 per month, in addition to amounts for the values of their structures, removal allowance, and a bonus for timely removal.
“The compensation previously agreed by the Cabinet was timed to maximise its benefit to those vendors affected by the pandemic-related slowdown in activity,” Gonsalves said.
Also, vulnerable Vincentians, particularly the elderly, the disabled, or those experiencing increased financial vulnerability as a result of the pandemic, are receiving a monthly payment of EC$200 for the remainder of the year.
Some 600 Vincentians are currently receiving this benefit.
“To date, approximately $260,000 has been spent on this programme,” the finance minister said.
He told Parliament that 451 minibus operators have registered to receive two months’ income support of EC$500 or EC$600 for 18-seater and 25-seater or larger buses, respectively.
Last month, the government paid approximately $180,000 to 351 minibus operators, Gonsalves said, adding that a further payment to the larger 451-operator cohort is expected shortly.
“Additionally, through negotiations with the minibus operators, the government agreed to accelerate the process by which changes in the price of fuel is passed on to the consumer.”
He said that taking advantage of falling oil prices, the government dispensed with the rolling three-month average model and reduced gasoline and diesel prices twice in quick succession.
“While these fuel reductions benefit all automobile-owning Vincentians, they are of particular benefit to minibus operators who fill their tanks multiple times per week. Indeed, some owners are saving between $500 and $800 a month on fuel as compared to their pre-COVID prices.”
The government has also made one-off income support payments to operators of taxis, water taxis and tour buses, which will reach an additional 391 registrants.
This includes 315 taxis, 44 water taxis, and 32 tour buses.
A total of 84 of these operators or 23% operate in the Grenadines.
Taxis, water taxis and tour buses — that is 25-seater and above registered with the St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority — receive a one off payment of EC$500, EC$300 and EC$2,000 respectively. To date, 380 of the 391 registered operators have received approximately $230,000 via this programme.
Gonsalves further said that 411 cultural and creative professionals who are adversely affected by the cancellations of Carnival, Easterval, the Bequia Regatta and the prohibitions on amplified music will receive various honoraria through the Ministry of Culture and the Carnival Development Corporation.
“These professionals who include calypsonians, mas men and women steel pan tuners and arrangers and cultural ambassadors, to name a few, will receive a total of approximately EC$250,000.”
The finance minister further said that 1,637 borrowers are utilising the moratorium on loan repayments, totalling EC$141 million
Among the non-indigenous institutions, some 800 borrowers have triggered the moratorium on EC$162 million in loans.
“As such, 2,437 borrowers are availing themselves of the moratorium on loans totalling $303 million. The $303 million in loans under moratorium at the moment represent 18% of the institutions’ collective private sector loan portfolio,” Gonsalves said.
The finance minister said the further moratorium on water and electricity bills prevented 1,520 water customers from being disconnected over the last three months.
Further, an additional 380 persons took advantage of the free reconnection that the prime minister announced on March 25.
These 1,900 customers represent approximately 5% of Central Water and Sewerage Authority’s customers, Gonsalves said.