With their savings running low, scores of unemployed people queued outside TTPost offices across the country to submit forms for Government’s Salary Relief Grant amidst the economic woes brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.
Many were stressed and a few were optimistic that the $1,500 grant would carry them through, but most were just hoping that the crisis would be over so they could return to work.
As the Guardian Media crew arrived at the TTPost offices on Coffee Street, San Fernando, many were too shy or ashamed at having to depend on government welfare for the first time in their lives.
A few weeks ago, South Oropouche mechanic Avinda Partap was employed at a transport company, collecting a salary that was adequate to support himself and his wife. Partap said while his employers try their best to assist workers, business is slower because of the COVID shutdown.
“I had a bit of money put aside and it is starting to finish so I have to see about this form here now. I don’t know how long this will work out for.
“My company kind of shut down because of COVID-19. Right now they have essential workers but they are on call out and the rest of workers have to stay home,” Partap said.
Based on his savings, he averages that his family can manage for the next two months.
“Right now I am depending on this money here. Other than that, I will have to turn into a vagrant.”
He was annoyed, however, that National Insurance Board was not accepting the application. When he went to their office along Harris Promenade, he was directed to TTPost.
Self-employed citizens have to wait until the Ministry of Finance rolls out the second phase of the grants. (See other story)
But for some who worked as casual labour in the private sector, they were disappointed at learning that they could not apply for the grant. This included Kenrick Singh, a sign technician who was paid per job. Singh said because of this he was not making NIS contribution for several months and was told he could not access the grant.
It was a double whammy for Singh. First, the company he worked for closed when Government passed the Public Health Ordinance (CoViD-19 Regulations) which mandated the closure of non-essential services. Secondly, to support his family, Singh took up the job as a PH taxi driver. However, Penal police stopped him in a roadblock last week and officers informed him that this source of income was illegal. They even took his car’s registration number to ensure he complied with the law. However, the officers gave him the application form to take to the NIB.
“It is tough. I was working a little PH on the road but the police told us that we were not allowed to do that. It is a $50,000 fine. Out of desperation, I said I have to ask something of the Government … Whatever I had home is finished and I have a wife and two children so I don’t have a choice. I turn to the Government now,” Singh said.
He was told to try the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services for food support and other assistance.
A construction labourer said he lost his job over a month ago and it was hard financially for him and his colleagues.
“All this going on right now, I mean the little grant can’t really help many people but at least it can do something.”
While the lines were long in some areas, there was a smooth flow in San Fernando with applicants observing social distancing and mask-wearing advice.