Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley has announced a suite of initiatives designed to assist Barbadians and businesses get through this difficult period which has arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Mottley told Parliament last evening during the estimates debate that Government would implement a $20 million Household Survival Programme consisting of a number of initiatives to assist the vulnerable.
“This Household Survival Programme of $20 million, in the first instance, will be topped up if it is not enough because the most important thing is for people to keep their heads above water …. I wish that I could do more; and the most important thing is not to leave anybody behind,” she said.
The Prime Minister explained that under the programme, Government would support the likely increase in demand for the services of the Welfare Department as a result of COVID-19.
“I immediately announce here an increase of 40 per cent in all rates and fees paid by the Welfare Department to its clientele that it services on an annual basis …. The increase that this is likely to cost us just under $10 million,” she stated.
She added that the other $10 million would be spent on assisting 1,500 vulnerable families, identified by the Welfare Department and the Household Mitigation Unit. She noted that the families would be given $600 monthly.
Ms. Mottley also announced the creation of the Barbados Adopt Our Families Programme, saying the account had been opened yesterday.
She further announced that the Massey Foundation had agreed to provide $250,000 immediately, in the first instance.
“We are formally launching the Barbados Adopt Our Families Programme because we believe a country that knows what it is to carry each other, cannot now watch others suffer in this environment .… I am directly appealing to the people of this country, particularly those earning above $100,000 and those companies that can afford it, to contribute to the Barbados Adopt Our Families Programme that will be chaired by the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs and will have other public servant representatives … managing the fund ….
“I am told by my officials that there are over 5,200 who declare and pay taxes as earning above that amount. If we can get another 1,500 or 2,000 people donating 600 or $1,200 a month; or those earning under $100,000, but have a little savings, 300 or 400 dollars a month for each of the next three to six months, then I believe we can move forward as one Barbados … holding each other up …. If we can get the contributions of ordinary Barbadians to the fund, then I believe we can go a long way in being able to more than double the amount that Government will sustain on its own,” the Prime Minister said.
During her presentation, Ms. Mottley saluted Barbadian international songstress Robyn Rihanna Fenty, saying she would contribute $1.4 million to purchase ventilators for this country.
She added that Courts Barbados had made a donation of beds for the quarantine facility and Sagicor donated temperature scanners for the airport (two) and one for the sea port.
Prime Minister Mottley also announced other initiatives, which are listed below:
- Persons who are laid off will immediately have the opportunity to get their unemployment benefits, guaranteeing them 60 per cent of their insurable earnings, up to a limit of 26 weeks. The National Insurance Board has agreed to relax the requirement to visit the employment exchange at Warrens.
- The National Insurance Board will give those on short weeks 60 per cent of their earnings for those days. For example, if a person is put on a three-day week, then the Board will pay 60 per cent of the wages the person would have earned for the other two days.
- For those employers who are prepared to retain three quarters of their workforce, even if some on short week, Government will defer their obligation to pay the employer’s contributions for three months, in the first instance, with the preparation to extend it for another three months if the crisis continues beyond that period.
- There will be a six-month payment moratorium on all existing loans and mortgages for persons and businesses who are directly affected and impacted by COVID-19. Persons must go to their bank and work out those programmes.
- The commercial banks have also agreed to temporary working capital financing options for corporates and small businesses which are directly impacted by COVID-19.
- Government will recapitalize the Small Hotel Investment Fund with $20 million to allow small hotels to borrow and blend with other commercial funds so they can refurbish their property during this down period. The interest rate for loans will no longer be five per cent but reduced to 3 1/2 per cent.
- The artistic industry will be impacted by the absence of tourists and constraints of gatherings for recreational purposes. Government will take $1 million from the Arts and Sports Development Fund to finance a programme dedicated to assisting artists, dancers and musicians create developmental content for Barbadians, designed to help shape values.
The creation of a Jobs, Investment and Business Survival Programme. Government will facilitate businesses to use this pause in activity to upscale and invest so that they can come back stronger.
In addition, Government will facilitate and fast track a number of investments where the private sector has the capital and is ready to move on the projects.