$2.7-B CUSHION
Gov't pumps more money into social intervention programmes

THE Government on Tuesday announced that it was pumping an additional $2.7 billion into social intervention programmes as part of measures to cushion the negative effects of rising prices, especially on the most vulnerable in the society.

Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, in a statement to Parliament, said the allocation will push to $3.8 billion Government's expenditure in social intervention expenditure. He said $1.1 billion is already accounted for in the budget

"Today, I am announcing new and additional measures which will ensure appropriate demographic diversity of this intervention spend," Clarke said, and explained that the largest portion of $1.789 billion will go towards back-to-school, one-off grants. This, said Clarke, will be implemented through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), and directed towards 160,000 school-aged children on the State's Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

In addition, $189 million will be allocated in back-to-school education grants and assistance to vulnerable non-PATH students through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) of Members of Parliament.

Pensioners have also been singled out for special treatment with the allocation of $550 million to those at the bottom of the income ladder. Additionally, $450 million has been allocated for 45,000 National Insurance Scheme pensioners who receive less than $15,000 per month, and $100 million for 10,000 social pensioners.

Other allocations are:

1.) $750 million for Independence clean-up of parish capitals, of which $550 million will be allocated to the National Solid Waste Management Authority, and $189 million through Members of Parliament, via the CDF — amounts allocated through the CDF can be used for beautification, bushing and drain-cleaning activities.

2.) $150 million for the trucking of water under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Water will be trucked to areas experiencing challenges due to the erratic nature of rainfall islandwide and especially in the parishes of St Elizabeth, Clarendon, and Portland, but not limited to those parishes.

3.) $550 million in general welfare support for non-PATH beneficiaries in the following amounts (i) $189 million through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security; (ii) $189 million through the CDF for welfare and economic enablement activities; (iii) $70 million through municipal corporations for welfare and economic support; (iv) $52 million for the Poor Relief Department, through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development; and (v) $50 million through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security's Public Assistance Department.

Clarke told the House that the programmes total $9 million in additional support allocated to each constituency, through the CDF.

"I am advised by the CDF that each Member of Parliament should consult with the director, CDF, to be guided on the administration of these additional allocations," said the finance minister.

Clarke said the additional expenditure will initially be funded by advances from existing budgeted resources. These advances, he said, will be cleared following regularisation of the expenditure in the First Supplementary Estimates 2022/23.

"The world is facing challenging times. After enduring two years of the COVID-19 pandemic — the worst pandemic in 100 years and the historic economic contraction it induced around the world — the world now faces the highest levels of global inflation in 40 years. Supply chain pressures related to the dynamics of COVID-19 had a negative impact on prices towards the latter half of 2021. This has been seriously compounded by the war in Ukraine, which began earlier this year," said Clarke.

He told the House that, even as the country celebrates 8.2 per cent gross domestic product growth for the 2021/22 fiscal year, "which represents a strong start to our recovery, and as unemployment at 6.2 per cent is at a historic low, we need to ensure that we continue to provide protection for the most vulnerable and those impacted by global conditions who are least able to absorb these shocks".

Earlier this year, the Government announced a number of relief measures to alleviate the impact of rising prices on the vulnerable. They included $800 million to provide assistance to public transport operators; $750 million for a food assistance programme targeting 75,000 people; $152 million for an increase in the allocation toward transportation assistance to students on PATH; $2 billion to the Government Of Jamaica Energy Co-Pay, contributing 20 per cent of electricity bills for all post-paid households that consume 200kWh of electricity or less, per month, over the four-month period April 2022 to July 2022, as well as $3,000 per month over the same period for pre-paid residential customers; and opened applications for a $25,000 grant to PPV operators/transport operators on June 20.

"We have received a total of 3,000 applications thus far. Payments will commence in two weeks for applicants verified has having duly paid up PPV licences. I encourage those who have not signed up yet to do so. Applications will be accepted until the end of August," Clarke said on Tuesday.

BY PETE SANKEY Senior associate editor sankeyp@jamaicaobserver.com

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