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Long Lines outside the Social Service Centre on Ciparo Street in San Fernando on Monday.

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It’s now five weeks since Minister of Finance Colm Imbert announced the rollout of a $400 million Salary Relief Grant for citizens who suffered a loss of income due to Government’s COVID-19 measure.

While the first 1,000 applicants received $1,500 grants in their bank accounts yesterday, many lament the slow pace of distribution. In the past weeks, many people told Guardian Media that they dipped into their savings and bankruptcy is a real worry. The uncertainly of when the government will lift the economic restrictions makes them anxious.

Imbert announced that the government would implement the grant on March 23 to cover March, April and May.

At $1,500 per person, the grant targets 100,000 citizens who suffered retrenchment, termination or temporary lay-off due to the closure of nonessential businesses under the Public Health Ordinance, (COVID-19 Regulations) 2020).

He tasked the National Insurance Board with overseeing the grant distribution because it has a database of those within the (Pay As You Earn) tax system.

On April 8, the Ministry of Finance released application forms online and allocated physical copies for pick-up at selected police stations on April 9.

Up to March 25, the Ministry of Finance received 11,452 hand-delivered application from TTPost and 18,758 from emails. Imbert said the Ministry of Finance expects to increase its capacity to process and deliver up to 10,000 new grants per week. He told the House of Representatives on Monday that the Ministry would wire the first 1,000 grants to successful applicants’ bank accounts on Tuesday. In a tweet yesterday, he confirmed that the Ministry delivered the first set of grants on Tuesday evening.

Economist Indira Sagewan said many people complained that they had not yet received the grant. Sagewan’s rationale for describing the process as slow was the urgent need citizens had for relief.

“Many people reached out to me; people who are supporting people concerning filling out forms, and they have not yet received the grant. I can understand their worry because it is an immediate need people have. Many people who lost their jobs worked paycheque to paycheque. They are now requiring the three months support being provided by the State, given the fact that we are on a shutdown,” Sagewan said.

As some public servants are not required to work during the Stay at Home period, she said the Ministry could use staff from others sections to aggressively process the grants in short space of time, given the urgency.

Communication Workers Union secretary general Clyde Elder agreed that the grants were taking too long to reach those in need. Elder said that while some people stay at home with full pay, others are struggling to survive.

He said that because T&T’s minimum wage was not a living wage, the inequality exists.

“These people make just enough money to cover their bills. Workers sent home since the end of March are entering May without a salary. Some people are already on the brink of hunger,” Elder said.

Avonelle Hector-Joseph, team leader of the Non-governmental Organisation, Is The Not A Cause (ITNAC) has seen people hungry in recent times. Whether they’re awaiting food support from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services or the Salary Relief Grant, Hector-Joseph said it’s been a month without a salary or money to buy food.

Like Elder, she said those low-income earners suffer the most; many of whom worked in the fast-food industry and were displaced in less than 48 hours when their employers were shut down.

“There are people who earn minimum wage. They are mostly single mothers, some of whose children’s fathers may be in jail or their child maintenance matter is caught up in the court. Are the people who make decisions concerned? You had people on the breadline in less than 48 hours. What did you expect to happen? They are clueless about what people are facing in this country. People who do not understand a problem can never fix a problem,” Hector-Joseph said.