Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Banking hiccup - Thousands with invalid accounts yet to receive COVID relief, two-month extension for some grants

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2020 | 12:24 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

Opposition Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding has asserted that the banking sector has fallen short in facilitating COVID-19 relief payments from the Government, as it was reported yesterday that some beneficiaries faced significant hurdles in accessing the benefit.

“The remittance companies, I think, have provided an easier channel than the bank accounts, and we do sympathise with the members of the team who have had to cope with the demands on their time and resources in dealing with the challenges of sorting out a range of issues with the bank accounts that persons have,” Golding said in his critique of the sector.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke informed Parliament that as at July 1, some 396,311 applicants out of 415,888 eligible applicants had received monies under the Government’s COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

Clarke revealed that some 32,970 applicants were given the nod to receive benefits through the Supporting Employees with the Transfer of (SET) Cash scheme, but only 25,561 were paid the benefit because more than 7,000 had invalid bank accounts.

“The activity of dealing with invalid bank accounts has been extremely demanding on the project team’s time and resources. [I] can’t stress that enough,” Clarke said.

“The CARE team is encouraging them by messages to update their payment information,” he added.

The SET Cash grant is for persons earning $1.5 million or less, whose employment was terminated after March 10 as a result of the impact of the coronavirus on economic activity.

Tax Administration Jamaica has done a review of previous eligibility results and is in the process of ruling an additional 1,500 applications eligible for payment.

“The payments for the final month of June, as well as payment for the new eligible 1,500, will be paid by the week of the 20th of July with respect to that final component,” the minister said.

There are bank account obstacles for another 13,474 eligible individuals under the Compassionate Grant programme, according to the minister.

He said 375,088 applications were deemed eligible but only 361,614 received payments.

As it relates to the Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST) Cash programme, some 250 applications were received, of which 142 were deemed eligible and will receive grants for retaining roughly 14,000 employees in total.

“About 68 of the applicants failed to be eligible by not having a tourism board licence, And many of these applicants were entirely outside of the tourism industry,” Clarke said.

“There has been a delay in finalisation of the BEST Cash process due to several iterations of a processing validation audit with the Auditor General’s Department and this has caused a delay in payment,” he explained, adding that instructions have been given to start making the payments.

In the meantime, Clarke announced a two-month extension for two elements of the CARE Programme – SET Cash and BEST Cash grants – to August 2020.

The extensions will benefit just under 50,000 workers, who were earning up to $1.5 million per year.

Clarke said the grants of $18,000 per month would further help them cope with the economic fallout.

He also said that with Jamaica now approaching 120 days since some businesses were forced to close because of COVID-19, there is the potential for employees to initiate redundancy requests. However, the finance minister said the Government does not want to precipitate this and so the extension of the grant programme while the economy recovers could be helpful.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com