House committee bats for workers who missed deadline for COVID grants

Chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) Dr Wykeham McNeill indicated Wednesday that the committee intends to push for an appeals process for workers who have missed out on the supporting employees with transfer (SET) cash grant offered by the Government under its COVID-19 assistance programme.

Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke announced the programme in March to benefit people who earn below the income tax threshold of $1.5 million, and who would be out of work between March 10 and June 30.

For workers to benefit, employers have to submit the requisite income tax documents, but there have been complaints about accessing the system and uploading supporting documents.

The deadline for the submission of applications has since expired, leaving many disgruntled because they were unable to benefit.

“You cannot have a situation where two months after this thing has been announced, and put in place, you have a situation where workers don’t know where they stand; they know they qualify but can’t seem to get the information. There is an element of mistrust that is now being engendered because of problems with the system,” the PAAC chairman said at Wednesday’s meeting with officials of the finance ministry.

He said there needs to be a system for appeals.

Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison explained that some people were not able to meet the deadline due to a number of issues, but noted that the ministry had been in discussions with representatives of the tourism sector, for example, on the issues surrounding both the SET and business employee and transfer of cash (BEST) cash grants.

She noted that some of the adjustments that the tourism sector had asked for in relation to BEST cash had led to some of the delays, adding that some of the problems encountered with the SET cash were not from the ministry’s end, but some employers.

According to the financial secretary, payments that were due in April for a batch of 12,265 workers are to be made this week.

Added McNeill: “There are members in the sector who are getting frustrated and getting upset about the challenges that they have had with making this system work and that it is made to appear that they’re not attempting to do what needs to be done. They indicate that they’ve been communicating regularly with the Ministry of Finance, and it really seems that what should have been a good programme is a getting a bad name because people are starting to get frustrated with it.”

Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for St James Central Heroy Clarke pointed out that there are some employers who were not filing tax returns, which impedes the worker from accessing benefits or government assistance.

It was suggested that representatives of the committee meet with a team from the finance ministry and the various sector leaders to discuss the issues affecting the workers and preventing some from benefiting.

— Alphea Saunders

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