Five thousand-plus persons who applied for government grants during the COVID-19 pandemic were turned down according to Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox, who blamed the situation on those who sought to defraud the state.
What the Minister did not say is how many of the persons who actually applied and met the criteria accessed the grant to get some relief at this time.
Daily, businesses are shutting their doors and more people are being thrown on the breadline. Just last week, the T&T Chamber sounded a warning that currently, more than 100,000 people may be jobless as a result of restrictions implemented for COVID-19.
Minister Cox told the Senate some people were “double-dipping” and attempts at fraud made them ineligible for the grant. These acts effectively clogged the system, preventing genuine applicants from accessing support they desperately needed.
It is a shame that at this time, Peter is paying for Paul. The figure given by the T&T Chamber may only be part of the reality facing T&T as it battles COVID-19. Unlike the United States, there is no statistical data readily available to indicate the real picture. One can well understand the frustration of the private sector, given that they account for the creation of two-thirds of the country’s jobs.
The fact is that the state is limited in the jobs it can create or offer. Make work programmes often see a recycling of the same people, since there is no system to ensure work is shared equitably in a cycle that allows for some kind of rotation to take place.
The uncertainty facing the food and beverage sector is hitting those who can least afford it hardest. It’s not just business owners who suffer, but employees, their families and connected businesses.
It is not for us to judge the advice the state is receiving on which sectors should reopen but it brings little comfort that a sector providing the greatest number of jobs seems the hardest hit by the measures taken.
Empirical data shows the business sector is the growth engine of any economy. However, there is no logical explanation as to why casinos and beaches were allowed to reopen but not restaurants, which can limit people allowed into their establishments in a more structured way. The longer the shutdown continues the greater the suffering.
On September 9, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said 74,500 were paid salary relief grants totalling $112 million. On October 5 when he presented the 2020-2021 Budget, Minister Imbert said 33,813 individuals who lost jobs or had incomes reduced received grants totalling $129.8 million in salary relief or income support grants.
So, we ask Minister Cox to tell us how many people didn’t get grants and how many actually did.
Minister Cox may also want to say whether Government has a real sense of how many young people have had to drop out of school and tertiary institutions to help their families survive through this period.
This too may shock the Government.