At 22 years old, Avisha Mohammed had the responsibility of the sole breadwinner in a household of five, but COVID-19 brought the closure of and downsizing of several businesses, forcing her onto the breadline.
Since March 22 Mohammed has not been able to find employment. She hoped that the Ministry of Finance’s Salary Relief Grant would bring some comfort, but like others, she got nothing.
Mohammed is part of an online support group of citizens who applied for the grant but are yet to receive any payment.
On March 24, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the $400 million COVID-19 relief measure, but six months later many are still clamouring for the grant.
The grant was meant to provide relief to citizens who were terminated or had their income suspended. Applicants must have no other source of income. Its value is up to $1,500 per month for up to three months.
Guardian Media reached out to Minister Imbert and Corporate Communications Manager at the Ministry of Finance Cherylann Cummings.
Questions were sent by email and although there were no responses, Imbert later tweeted that the ministry paid out 74,549 grants valued at $112 million.
Mohammed, who worked in the Piarco International Airport, claims the ministry rejected her application because her mother collects a $700 food card, which has to provide groceries for five people for a month.
She said her family gets through by the grace of God and by borrowing money which they cannot repay until she gets a job.
“I reapplied during the month of August because I was told that they were not seeing my first application form when I called to inquire about the grant.”
“My mother cannot work because her health is not good. My brother is 14, my sister is six, and my stepdad did a brain tumour surgery so he cannot work as well due to his health. I have been rejected because my mom gets a food card and she also receives public assistance for my brother, so that is why they rejected my application. Am I not entitled to the grant?”
Also in the group, Janelle Julien showed a screenshot of a Facebook message from the NIB, asking for two days to check into her query. However, weeks went by without feedback.
She was sent home in March.
“I got a call in the second week in July from a private number, asking me if I was still interested in the Salary Relief Grant from the NIB. I said ‘yes’ then the lady said ‘get a pen to take a number’, which I did. She said I had to resubmit a photo of my ID card and a code number to write on the envelope to resubmit for payments,” Julien explained.
Within the group are single mothers, drivers who transported school children, preschool teachers and employees at private tertiary education institutions.
Many reapplied for the grant, but they said it did not help their cause.
Reshma Pascall was temporarily laid-off in March, and despite applying for the grant, she too is still waiting. “I have been calling every day since July and used hundreds of dollars in phone cards, sent emails for an update and no response yet,” she said.