400K poor families transition to relaxed quarantine sans aid

June 1, 2020 – 7:15am

MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila and neighboring areas are easing quarantine controls on Monday with about 400,000 poor households nationwide still waiting for much-delayed government cash handouts.

What’s more, the slow-moving distribution of first tranche of the P205-billion social amelioration program is pushing back the second tranche of assistance, which was originally set to be disbursed at the start of May. The cash aid program is mandated under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act which is set to expire on June 24.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which is spearheading the program, had all the reasons for the delay— from difficulty in reaching beneficiaries in far-flung areas to delayed liquidation of aid by cities and municipalities which, in turn,  supposedly prevented DSWD‘s timely check on recipients if they qualified for assistance in the first place.

“We hope to complete validation of first tranche beneficiaries so we could proceed with the payout of the second tranche,” DSWD Director Irene Dumlao said in a Viber message to reporters last Friday.

As of Thursday, the latest period on which data is available as of this posting, P99.3 billion of the first P100-billion aid was disbursed to 17.6 million families. The target beneficiaries was set at 17.96 million.

Nothing new

The delays in cash aid distribution are nothing new. Cash aid distribution encountered red tape early due to mismatch on list of beneficiaries between DSWD and local government units (LGUs).

DSWD’s recipient verification process also derailed the payouts. Validation can be tedious and conducted house-to-house. To fix the problem, DSWD relegated the verification process after aid distribution was completed. In doing so however, the agency only moved disruptions from the first to second tranche of aid.

To be fair, DSWD is also in a bind. Liquidation is a state auditing requirement that does not go away even during emergencies. After this is submitted, DSWD may take up to 15 days to validate the names of aid beneficiaries in the liquidation reports.

The problem is compounded by belated submission of these reports from cities and municipalities. As of May 26, only 659 of 1,634 local government units have accounted for their share of first tranche of cash subsidy.

“DSWD explained that it is aware of the needs of low-income Filipino families whose members still cannot work due to the community quarantine and that its goal is to immediately deliver the second tranche of (cash aid),” the agency said in a statement on Sunday.

“The department, however, strongly emphasized that it is necessary to complete the validation process before the release of the second tranche of the assistance,” it added.

Persistent challenges

What’s more, it has become unclear how DSWD plans to distribute the second tranche of aid. Challenges first occurred in the number of beneficiaries. From 17.96 million in the first batch, President Duterte slashed the number of recipients to just 17 million, with compositions also changed.

Initially, people that would be living in areas under general community quarantine, which now include Metro Manila, was planned not to get subsidized. But in a memorandum last May 22, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said recipients for the final set of aid will be culled from 12 million people under DSWD’s list of assistance to individuals in crisis situation program, plus 5 million more not on the first tranche.

How the aid will be distributed had also been confusing. Duterte said he was tasking the military to distribute the final batch of aid to poor communities, but it now appears that LGUs would still play a key role in actual disbursements.

For now, DSWD has refused to commit to a specific date when it would disburse the balance of P100 billion for the last month of aid despite persistent queries from reporters. The budget department already released to the agency the budget in the last week of April. — Prinz Magtulis

SOURCE: https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/06/01/2017973/400k-poor-families-transition-relaxed-quarantine-sans-aid