Almost three months after COVID-19 brought an exodus to a sizeable portion of T&T’s workforce, single mothers and young men are still clamouring for financial support.
On March 24, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert announced the implementation of a $400 million Salary Relief Grant to assist citizens who suffered job losses or reduced income due to the government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
The Ministry of Finance had uploaded application forms online and provided physical copies for pick up at selected police stations in the second week of April.
Six weeks later, many are crying out for help as funds dwindle.
For the hundreds working in the betting and gaming industry, it is worse than others.
Casino worker Rae Jones and her almost 400 colleagues collected their last salary at the end of March. It is almost the end of May and the little savings that Jones and her seven-year-old son survive on is almost done.
She told Guardian Media she emailed her application on April 16 but there was no response.
Weeks later, she contacted the National Insurance Board for an update on the grant and was told to call the Social Welfare Office.
She said no one answered the hotline and calls to the Ministry of Finance were unsuccessful.
“I have a seven-year-old son and 85 per cent of my colleagues are single mothers. It is frustrating to not have a job. Some of us were living salary to salary. Thank God I saved a bit because I am living on my savings. But that is running out. I spend $800 on groceries and it lasts for about two weeks,” Jones said.
Kandace Richardson recalled being jobless in a matter of hours after the government shut down bars. Richardson said that as soon as forms were available, she dropped off her application at a TTPost outlet the following day.
“It is stressful. I have a 16-year-old child to take care of and bills and other stuff to handle. The government has not said when casinos and bars would reopen,” Richardson said.
Oma Mahabir is on the brink of eviction. Her job as a driver suffered during the onset of COVID-19 in T&T. She also applied over a month ago but got no acknowledgement on whether the Ministry received her application.
Avinash Lochan, a sales associate with a business supply group, said he emailed an application on April 14 and dropped off a copy at TTPost the following day. Up to yesterday, there was no response.
“My mum applied for a food card which she got. I also did a loan deferral which was approved. As for now, it is just waiting to see when we will be called out to work. I am single but live with my mum due to ailments and my sister is employed at extra foods,” Lochan said.
Some people are getting by, like Rituals Coffee House worker Tamara Morancie.
“I was sent home on April 6 and I applied on April 15. I did not try contacting anyone and never got any confirmation that it was accepted. This affected my savings a bit, but my company has been giving a stipend. I am renting and I have kids. To be honest, it hasn’t affected me really because my partner is employed and taking care of the home,” Morancie said.
For some who got the grant, it just is not enough. Hotel employee Avian Charles collected $450 from the NIB. After being sent home two months ago, she said this was not able to cover any of her bills.
Among the people who reached out to Guardian Media were young entrepreneurs, practitioners in the entertainment industry, hotels, airport and gyms employees. The consensus was that the timeframe for the receipt of the grant was too long, especially as their finances were running low. Despite the government’s phased reopening of the economy underway, there is no indication when gyms, National Lotteries Control Board vending outlets and bars will be reopening; adding to these workers fear of being left jobless and hungry.
Guardian Media called Imbert and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West for comment, but neither answered their phones. On April 29, the first 1000 grants were sent to applicants’ bank accounts.