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VILLAFUERTE LAUDS BID FOR ANOTHER CASH AID ROUND

Fresh efforts by the economic managers of President Rodrigo Duterte to scour for funds for a possible supplemental budget in the event of future cash subsidies should prompt the Congress to prioritize the approval of the so-called ‘ayuda’ bill to provide emergency assistance to vulnerable families and further boost household spending nationwide amid a protracted pandemic that has dislocated more and more Filipinos , Camarines Sur LRay Villafuerte has said. 

Villafuerte said he would even support calls for a special session to pass the bill before the Congress resumes session on May 17, as a lifeline to families hardest hit by Covid-19, amid official projections that the two-week lockdown alone in the so-called “NCR Plus” bubble would wipe out 252,000 jobs and shove 102,000 Filipinos into poverty.

“The Congress should give priority to the passage of  the Ayuda bill or the proposed Bangon Pamilyang Pilipino (BPP) program when it resumes session as this would translate into a bigger and broader package to help poor and low-income families survive the pandemic-driven global recession,” said Villafuerte. 

Economic managers are open to providing funds for a fresh cash aid program but this should not breach the deficit cap of 8.9 percent of GDP to keep the country’s stable fiscal position and enable it to deal with the prolonged effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Villafuerte said providing much-needed financial aid to Filipinos is crucial at this time, especially after the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) reported  that the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and selected adjacent provinces would result to  252,000 job losses,  P30 billion in foregone income, and drive 102,000 more Filipinos into poverty.

Economic managers are open to providing funds for a fresh cash aid program but this should not breach the deficit cap of 8.9 percent of GDP to keep the country’s stable fiscal position and enable it to deal with the prolonged effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), meanwhile, said nearly 8,000 workers were displaced during the first week alone of the reimposed ECQ in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces. 

The BPP being pushed by Villafuerte  provides a  P10,000 subsidy per household for more beneficiaries not only in the NCR and other areas affected by the ECQ but in  all other parts of the country as well.

Villafuerte agreed with Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado when the latter said that the government should also prepare to release cash aid to other regions that could revert to ECQ status in the future. 

Avisado said at a breakfast news forum that among the possible funding sources are realigned agency budgets, the early remittance of dividends from government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), and other sources that can be tapped by the Department of Finance (DOF).

Earlier, Villafuerte said the government reported in February around P452 billion in unutilized funds from the 2020 national budget and P204 million in its unobligated cash balance. Such funds can be tapped as fund sources for the BPP, Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte recalled that even before the Bayanihan 1 law was enacted, he had been calling on the budget department to reprioritize allocations for  “non-essential items and programs of the government, including travel expenses and budget for seminars and representation, to the government’s Covid-19 response. 

Villafuerte was principal author in the House of both the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.

“Without any means to survive, highly vulnerable families affected by the ECQ may be spared from Covid-19 because of the strict mobility restrictions to contain the quick spread of the deadly virus, but they may die from hunger,” Villafuerte said. 

He noted that Malacañang’s release of P22.9 billion in financial assistance to low-income families to provide  P1,000 worth of aid to affected individuals in ECQ areas would not be enough because more quarantine measures may have to be imposed later if the Covid-19 surge continues, especially with the delay in vaccine deliveries resulting from the global supply hitches.

Under the proposed Ayuda bill or  BPP, the priority beneficiaries for the P10,000 cash grant are the poorest of the poor, senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), solo parents, displaced workers, medical frontliners, families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), individuals who were not able to secure aid through the Social Amelioration Program  (SAP) under Bayanihan 1, Philippine National ID holders, and members of vulnerable groups. 

Villafuerte was principal author in the House of both the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.

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