Seafarers and preschool owners are the latest categories of workers to be covered under what Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says is his government’s “salvation package” in response to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that the central government will give qualifying seafarers EC$300 monthly for three months — August, September, October — while preschool operators will get two monthly payments of EC$1,000 each.

The disbursement will be handled by the National Insurance Services (NIS).

Gonsalves, speaking on NBC Radio, on Wednesday, said that seafarers who returned home as early as Dec. 1, 2019 could quality for the income support.

“There are some crew members who would have taken the time off to come home even for a brief period for the Christmas and were going back. I don’t want to disadvantage them. I’d thought originally January 1st, but I thought December 1st might be the most equitable,” the prime minister said.

He said that between 1,200 and 1,500 persons stand to benefit from the assistance.

Gonsalves said that within a week of announcing, a few weeks ago, his government’s intention to explore assistance for seafarers, 200 of them had registered at his office.

He said that the NIS will do the verification.

Seafarers are being asked to take along their sailor’s ID and whatever applicable documentation, such as a document of discharge, when registering for the income support.

“…  if you got a letter of discharge or whatever document, you’ll have to take it but it’s also important that you take your passport so that you can show the stamp when you came in. The reason being that we are taking persons from the first of December last year,” Gonsalves said.

He noted that the COVID-19 virus was around since last December.

Meanwhile, the prime minister apologised for not giving assistance to pre-school operators earlier, even as their staff were being given income support.

“… if you are operating a school and you had to pay the rent, you have to pay the light, you have to pay the water, you have some fixed costs,” Gonsalves said, adding that the pay-out will total EC$125,000.

3,023 persons receiving pay-outs

Gonsalves said that as of July 17, there were 1,302 persons receiving assistance under the NIS’ temporary unemployment benefit (TUB) and 1,721 receiving help under the displacement income support program (DISP).

“… therefore, 3,023 employees who have had their salaries reduced significantly by the displacement by this pandemic. And those are mainly in the tourism sector, hospitality sector which we will take care of and the NIS pays the others,” Gonsalves said.

He said that with the seafarers, another 1,000 persons might be added to the list.

“The Minister of Finance is anxious for me to put a cap on it. So I tell him $1.5 million,” the prime minister said, adding that if 1,000 seafarers qualify, the government would have to pay-out $900,000 over the three-month period.

“If you go to 1,500, … that is $1,350,000 — to use the money which sailors would be accustomed to, that half a million dollars US. So it’s a significant amount of money,” the prime minister said. 

He said he will take to parliament next week an amendment to the law that would move the period for government pay-outs.

 “I’m going to amend it and put down to the 31st of December because even though in the first instance this is to October 17, really in accordance with … the amendment to the NIS Act, out of an abundance of caution, so I don’t have to go back and go back.”

He said that if need be, a sum will be included in the 2021 Budget.

“And then we’ll have the time to do that. I just want everybody to understand that.”

The prime minister said he was aware of the upcoming election and speculations fuelled by his comments.

“‘Well, Ralph put it to the end of October that mean he coming with the election in October. He put it to December that mean, he coming’ — Ah mean, I’m working with first of all, the NIS when he does these things before, to do them in three-monthly periods,” he said, voicing and responding to perceived speculation.

Gonsalves has said that the general elections will be held before year-end, ahead of the March 2021 deadline.

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