Billions in relief coming for poor
The Government on Tuesday pledged $3.8 billion in assistance to struggling Jamaicans amid increasing inflation and rising food costs as it seeks to stabilise an economy rocked by the twin headwinds of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
In making the disclosure in Parliament, Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke outlined a $2.7-billion social intervention package in addition to $1.1 billion in budgetary support.
Clarke said that the incremental $2.7-billion expenditure will initially be funded by advances from existing budgeted resources and will be cleared following regularisation of spending in the First Supplementary Estimates 2022-23.
“The Government is listening to the people and the Government is responding to the people,” Clarke said to rousing applause from government lawmakers.
Jamaicans who are not already beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) are to receive $550 million in general welfare support, with $189 million to be allocated through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, $189 million through the Constituency Development Fund, and $70 million through municipal corporations. The welfare package also includes approximately $52 million in poor relief aid and $50 million from the labour ministry's Public Assistance Department.
Approximately $550 million has been earmarked for pensioners, with $450 million set aside for 45,000 linked to the National Insurance Scheme and who receive pensions of less than $15,000 per month, while $100 million is to be routed to 10,000 social pensioners.
Clarke said $1.7 billion will be expended in back-to-school, one-off grants that will be implemented through the labour ministry and directed towards 160,000 PATH students.
A further $189 million in back-to-school education grants and assistance will go to non-PATH vulnerable students through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Meanwhile, the National Solid Waste Management Authority is to receive $550 million for the “Independence clean-up” of parish capitals, while $189 million will go through members of parliament via the CDF.
Clarke said that the latter can be used for beautification, bush clearing, and drain cleaning.
The minister said an additional $9 million has also been allocated to each MP through the CDF.
Water is to be trucked at a cost of $150 million under the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development to areas experiencing challenges.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding called the relief package “a-run-with-it” scheme – hinting at the notorious slogan of former People's National Party-aligned Finance Minister Omar Davies – which he said was a signal that the Holness administration was responding to pressure from the Opposition.
“No doubt the people have been suffering. We've been saying for some time that the Government should do more to cushion the crisis. This is a step in the right direction,” he said, noting that the amount allocated was less than a fifth of one per cent of GDP.
But while patting the Government on the back, Golding insisted that a lot more needs to be done to ease Jamaicans' pain.
“It's not a huge amount of money to be spending on the society as a whole given the situation that we're facing with the cost-of-living crisis, the very high levels of gas prices, the high levels of food prices, and indeed the high interest rates that are affecting business people and mortgage payers,” he added.
In his rebuttal, Clarke said that Golding had been contradictory in his assessment, suggesting on the one hand that the Government was being careless and on the other that it was not doing enough.
“This is fully consistent with our fiscal trajectory and targets,” the finance minister said.