Wed | Apr 8, 2020

COVID bailout - Axed workers to get payouts as Clarke warns to prepare for the worst

Published:Wednesday | March 25, 2020 | 12:26 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, addressing Parliament on Tuesday.
Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, addressing Parliament on Tuesday.

Jamaican workers who have lost their jobs because of the economic ravages of COVID-19 are eligible to receive $54,000 under the Government’s Supporting Employees with Transfer of Cash (SET Cash) programme subject to stipulated conditions.

This is among a number of measures highlighted by Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke in Gordon House yesterday as he detailed the Holness administration’s $10-billion COVID contingency package to assuage the harsh effects of the novel ­coronavirus pandemic on Jamaicans.

The benefit is for workers who are under the income tax threshold of $1.5 million.

To qualify for the payment, Jamaican workers would have to provide proof that they lost their employment since March 10 when the first COVID case was discovered in Jamaica.

“This programme will be available to ­employees from any sector who lost their employment after March 10 and before June 30,” Clarke said as he closed the 2020-2021 Budget Debate in Parliament.

One qualifying criterion for the benefit is that employers would have to verify that in the last three months they filed statutory deductions on behalf of the employees.

“Once the applicant is verified, the file will be passed to the accountant general and payment made electronically directly to the bank account of the applicant,” Clarke pointed out.

TOUGH TIME FOR TOURISM

Under the Government’s Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) initiative, temporary cash transfers will be made to registered businesses in the tourism industry that are licensed with the Jamaica Tourist Board based on the number of workers they keep employed. The workers will have to fall under the income tax threshold of $1.5 million.

“This is a tough time for tourism. Businesses are struggling with no revenue and at the same time want to be able to reopen as soon as the storm passes,” Clarke said. “We want to support these tourism businesses by helping them ­support their most vulnerable employees.”

Businesses in the tourism sector can qualify by filling out the required form online and file and pay their payroll returns on the 15th day of April, May, and June.

The Government will transfer funds at a rate of $9,000 per fortnight to that tourism-­related business by direct transfer to their bank account. “For the months of April, May and June that will equate to $54,000 for each employee they retain whose taxable income is less than $1.5 million,” he said.

The finance minister told drivers in the JUTA, MAXI, and JCAL transport systems that the Government would work with their umbrella organisations “to see how we can best set up a verification system and how you can be included”.

For vendors in the various craft markets, Clarke said that the administration would hold talks with operators of the respective venues where they operate to assist in the verification process so that they could receive payment.

A similar exercise would be carried out in relation to market vendors so that they can also benefit.

Clarke did not mince words during his presentation, indicating that the country could face a massive economic shock, which has already begun.

He said the tourism sector depended on the recovery in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European markets.

“We need to be prepared for the worst and be ready for a very significant growth setback,” he said.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com

Gov’t’s $10b contingency package will finance:

n The CARE Programme

n $5.9b for SET Cash temporary grants for laid-off or terminated employees whose taxable income is $1.5m or less.

n BEST Cash temporary grants to support businesses in the tourism and related sectors in retaining employees whose taxable income is $1.5m or less.

n $1.1b for COVID PATH grants to support the poor and vulnerable with a payment that effectively increases what they would otherwise receive in the period April-June.

n $1.1b to support COVID grants for the informally employed who are affected.

n $800m for COVID MSME grants to support micro and small business.

n $1.2b in COVID tourism grants to support smaller operators.

n $200m in compassionate grants from the Constituency Development Fund to be distributed through constituency offices.

n $150m in support to the Ministry of Local Government for the elderly not on PATH, the infirm, and the homeless.

n $200m to support small farmers.