Leader of the Opposition Marlon Penn has proposed a COVID-19 Strategic Economic Recovery Plan that promotes the implementation of an unemployment benefits scheme, a work-for-pay initiative, and an income support initiative for vulnerable residents.
Penn said he believes it was time for the Opposition to offer a viable plan on the behalf of residents since Andrew Fahie-led government has failed to fully roll out a coherent economic stimulus plan for the BVI.
The Opposition legislator explained that the aforesaid Unemployment Benefits programme would make a pool of funding available during job crises.
He said the programme would provide income benefits to unemployed persons to enable them to take care of their basic needs.
Components of benefits plan
In outlining how the programme would work, Penn said it would be administered through an existing unit of the Social Security Board once legislative amendments are made.
He said the programme should either receive seed funding through a 75 percent contribution from Social Security and 25 percent from government, or full funding from government altogether.
Penn said this seed funding could be recouped over an extended period of time, through the monthly deductions of employment salaries which should be calculated to a certain percentage.
To be eligible for the programme, Penn recommended that persons should have made at least two years of statutory contributions, during any five-year period, and said that benefits will only last up to a maximum of three months of unemployment.
Income Support Programme for ineligible unemployed persons
In meantime, Penn also proposed an Income Support Programme which will be designed specifically for vulnerable persons who are not eligible for unemployment payments.
“This programme will provide support for the most vulnerable persons in society including the elderly, the indigent, the disabled, single-parent households with a defined number of children and without sufficient means, households with children with special needs,” he stated.
For the Work-for-Pay initiative, Penn said such a programme is critical during times when the local unemployment rate has risen drastically.
The Opposition Leader said some jobs under this initiative could include maintenance of public spaces and roadways, preparation works for the hurricane season, development and maintenance of the BVI’s public infrastructure, and the repairing of public schools.
He said the programme will help the economy transition during the COVID-19 period by putting resident back to work and keeping economic activity present in the BVI.
Penn said he believes residents should be made to spend between three to six months within the programme to maximise employment up until the economy restarts to reopen to the wider world.
Fund programme through budget reprioritisation
He further recommended that the programme be funded through a budget reprioritisation exercise.
“Funding could be reallocated from less prioritised areas and dedicated to this programme which would provide earned income, reduce anticipated levels of free income support, and circulate new monies into the economy,” the Opposition Leader stated.
Bill Support initiative
Additionally, Penn said it is imminent that government present a practical solution for residents as it relates to payment of bills during this COVID-19 period.
“Consideration has to be giving to the landlords and businesses from whom these would be either suspended or forgiven. This would be necessary until the work-for-pay initiative is implemented or employment picks up,” he said.
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