Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chair of House Ways and Means Committee has proposed a cash transfer assistance for the poorest 20 percent of the Luzon population bound to be affected by the government’s enhanced community quarantine against the COVID-19 threat.
In a recent aide memoire to the House leadership, Salceda said his proposed “Pantawid Family Quarantine” Program, a mass-based social mitigating measure, involves, among others, a “13th Month” cash grant for recipients of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and a full-year advance to Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCT) beneficiaries, within the quarantine period.
The lawmaker, who was first among his colleagues to propose a lockdown against the rise in COVID-19 infections, said “the poorest 20 percent of the population will be unable to survive the enhanced community quarantine without significant national government assistance, considering that most of their employment is informal and hence hampered by the Luzon-wide mobility restrictions.”
In a separate radio interview, Salceda said “keeping poor people in their homes involves keeping them within a decent level of subsistence. Kailangan mabigyan ng mga insentibo ang publiko upang mapasunod sila ng maayos (They need incentives to enablem to follow) the ordered enhanced community quarantine.”
“Ensuring compliance with the enhanced quarantine’s restrictions among those who cannot support themselves is absolutely critical in denying the virus room to grow. Without any means of income substitution, earners from lowest income families will be forced to work and possibly become vectors for infection, just to make ends meet,” he stressed.
The proposal has two components: 1) 13th month 4Ps grant worth Php 6 billion for 2.54 million 4Ps family beneficiaries in Luzon and; 2) full-year advance of P3,600 per family of 6.2 million UCT recipients under the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) law, who are mostly informal families.
Salceda said the advantages of these two would be: 1) they are funded in the 2020 GAA; 2) they are well targeted to the lowest 50% of the poor; 3) the beneficiaries are well-listed and qualified; and 4) the Department of Social Welfare and Development has experience and technical capacity in disbursing it. “These two combined, will benefit more than 8 million families, or two-thirds out of the 12 million poorest families, with a balance of 4 million – the middle-middle class up to the top 10%,” he added
“My office proposes the reconfiguration of existing cash transfer programs, while Congress is in recess. Essentially, beneficiaries of the 4Ps in Luzon will be given a 13th-month 4Ps grant, and that will be advanced to the quarantine period,” he explained, adding that the conditions tied to the 4Ps grant may be waived for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine, considering that most of the conditions are tied to the health sector – the key priority of which is health emergency, may be to reserve capacity for Covid-19 response.
“I still advocate supplemental appropriations. For now, however, this proposal will provide immediate relief, since it has been established by the Family Income and Expenditure Survey that the lowest fifth of the population have only 20 days or less in savings.
“Limas na limas po ang ipon ng mahihirap; tama po itong desisyon na mag-quarantine (Their savings will shortly be drained shortly; the quarantine decision is certainly right). In fact, this will save us 1,565 lives. It could be yours or your loved ones. No lockdown, mass transmission will kill 4.13% of GDP. A lockdown will decrease GDP by only 2.95%. It saves lives and saves the economy. But we will need to support those who will find it hard to comply because their livelihood is at stake,” Salceda said.
“For the deciles 7-9, the government can provide 30-day paid sick leaves for its employees, but for the private sector, we need legislation and appropriation for government support to initiatives for private sector employees,” he pointed out, reiterating his “recommendation for the convening of a special session, preferably virtual only, so Congress can enact needed appropriation measures. The Speaker has received our recommendations very well, so I thank him for that.”
Salceda, the former governor known for pioneering emergency response measures in Albay, has been proposing various economic and health measures to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 onslaught. “My office is on think-tank mode. As I always say, whenever our leaders need evidence-based advice, we are always ready,” he emphasized.