Clarke's $33-B rescue budget gets Parliament's full supportWednesday, October 13, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke last night won full support from parliamentary colleagues for his $33-billion health and economic rescue plan supplementary budget designed to help Jamaicans cope with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The most attractive measure is a $1-billion COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme, a package food drive in which CARE food baskets will be distributed by the ministries of finance, labour and social security and local government and rural development, in partnership with parliamentarians, councillors, churches, NGOs, and the private sector to assist those most affected by rising food prices.
Dr Clarke said that the programme will distribute between 200,000 and 250,000 CARE packages to vulnerable Jamaicans and those adversely affected by COVID-19. He pointed out that the Government was responding to increasing food costs by expanding this component of the SERVE Jamaica Programme by almost doubling the budgetary allocation.
“Vulnerable here does not mean only persons in identifiable vulnerable communities, [but] through partnerships we will all be our brothers and sisters keepers through this pandemic,” Dr Clarke noted.
Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson said that he supported what the minister was proposing, particularly for the informal sector, and was raising no objections to what had been announced. However, he cautioned about some of the existing challenges and the need to complete some of the things which have been started.
“I did, on record in this House, talk about the impact that food prices have had and will continue to have…The efforts here are commendable but there are some other things that I believe can be tweaked to bring some other people into the net so that we can assist as broad a cross-section as possible,” Robinson said.
The exchanges closed the debate on the 2021/22 Supplementary Estimates, which lasted into late evening at Gordon House.
Clarke noted that approximately 56 per cent of the expenditure is geared towards meeting corresponding health-care costs, as well as cushioning the economic impact of the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis is expensive. Approximately $15 billion, “or 56 per cent of one of the largest supplementary budgets ever”, was being devoted to addressing the pandemic and its impact, he noted.
“These are resources that could have gone into other areas but, instead, need to be directed towards addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Not only is it a health imperative, but also it is a fiscal imperative that we overcome the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world,” he said.
Clarke also explained that so far the Government has paid COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives to 21,000 Jamaicans at a cost of $220 million, with a further 15,000 confirmed eligible and to be paid during October, bringing total spend to $370 million.
He said the Government expects more COVID-19 vaccine grants to be paid out, prior to the end of the fiscal year, as the vaccination numbers increase. But other items included in this $6-billion approved budgetary provision are amounts that are now going to be allocated to ministries to be spent, or for reimbursement, if already advanced.
He pointed to the CARE Programme providing an automatic one-off grant of $10,000 to all heads of households on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education.
“That CARE Programme will provide approximately 130,000 grants of $10,000 each, at a total cost of $1.3 billion. This expenditure will be implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service,” he said.
In terms of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pensioners, the Government's flagship social security scheme which has been in existence for nearly 60 years, he said that anyone in receipt of a NIS pension at the rate of $10,000 a month or less, the CARE Programme will provide an automatic one-off grant of $10,000.
He said that there are about 57,000 pensioners in this category, and the total cost of this grant is expected to be approximately $570 million, and will be implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
The CARE Programme will also be extended to cover some 5,000 Jamaicans under the new social pension programme for people with no other source of income, by providing an automatic one-off grant of $10,000 to all approved beneficiaries. This is expected to cost $50 million, and be implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
There will also be a CARE Programme provision of a one-off grant of $10,000 to all employees who are on the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system earning less than, or equal to $15,000 a week gross pay, or $60,000 per month gross, as well as all self-employed individuals whose statutory income is less than or equal to $60,000 per month.
“We expect to make payments to approximately 130,000 persons who meet these thresholds, and therefore we are allocating $1.2 billion for this CARE Programme initiative. Persons across several occupational groups are likely to qualify for this grant if their income meets the threshold. They will apply through the CARE portal,” he explained.
The CARE Programme will also provide an automatic one-off grant of $18,000 to: (1) all persons who received the last SET Cash grant; and
(2) who remained out of work as at September 30, 2021.
He said that 35,000 people will benefit from this $670-million allocation.
A SET Cash Grant will assist PAYE employees laid off due to the unemployment rate increasing dramatically from 7.2 per cent to 12.7 per cent in four months last year, when 150,000 jobs were lost.
Items included in a $6-billion approved budgetary provision are now going to be allocated to ministries to be spent, or for reimbursement if already advanced.
These include: $300 million for paint the city activities engaging young people in the cities and towns; $200 million for gully cleaning activities that will improve the environment and engage people; $140 million for the Poor Relief Department; $40 million for the hard-hit creative and cultural sector; $40 million for people with disabilities; $150 million to pay the licence fees for route taxis and contract carriage operators; and $10 million in grants for grave diggers.
In addition, loans to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) will be accessed through the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), as the Government will be providing $3 billion in grants and loans.
The DBJ will make grants available to MSMEs of up to $300,000 to support their transition to digital capabilities; and $1 billion in MSME Go-Digital Loans to support investments in software and digital technologies that increase their resilience to the COVID-19 environment.
Both loan facilities can also be used in conjunction with the DBJ Voucher for Technical Assistance Grant of up to $300,000 for smaller MSMEs, towards the cost of other services such as business advisory services, business intelligence software and electronic marketing.
Clarke also noted that the CARE Programme in 2020, and the CARE element of the SERVE Jamaica Programme 2021, span a wide range of diverse activities that have provided and continue to provide social and economic support with a range of modalities for access.
Additionally, he pointed out that, before the Supplementary Estimates, the Government added grants for independent schools which have been badly affected, unlike Government schools which continue to pay their teaching and ancillary staff.