The government has released P16.4 billion worth of subsidies to around 2.1 million qualified beneficiary-workers of the Small Business Wage Subsidy Program to help them ride out the impact of COVID-19 pandemic to their livelihood, the Department of Finance has said.
The SBWS was designed to support qualified workers who were not able to receive their salaries for at least two weeks due to the enhanced community quarantine and other containment measures imposed by the national and local governments since mid-March to prevent the spread of the disease.
“A total of about P16.4 billion-worth of subsidies were credited to the accounts of SBWS beneficiaries as of May 12, equivalent to P5,000 to P8,000 per qualified worker, depending on the minimum wage level in his or her region,” DoF said during the weekend.
SBWS subsidies are either credited to the beneficiaries’ bank or PayMaya accounts or sent through cash remittance via MLhuillier Financial Services.
This SBWS initiative is one of the intervention programs the Duterte administration has rolled out in support of low-income families, workers of small businesses, and other vulnerable sectors that are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
These programs are aligned with President Duterte’s priorities of saving lives and protecting communities amid this global health crisis.
The SBWS interagency task force is chaired by the DoF, represented by Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito Lambino II, and with SSS president and chief executive Aurora Ignacio and BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa as members.
Lambino said MLhuillier Kwarta Padala, through the Development Bank of the Philippines, is the partner-remittance center of the SSS in the disbursement of wage subsidies to unbanked beneficiaries.
The task force decided to tap the DBP because of its experience in delivering subsidies via money remittance to beneficiaries of the Department of Agriculture’s Rice Farmers Financial Assistance program, many of whom do not have bank accounts.
Meanwhile, Ignacio reported that “almost 160,000 employers submitted applications for the program as the applications ended on May 8, 2020.”
“The SSS is currently processing them, but so far, the applications for around 2.94 million employees have been approved according to program criteria. This represents around 86 percent of the program’s target of 3.4 million small business employees,” she said.
This wage subsidy shall be given for up to two months so that affected small businesses are able to retain their employees during the quarantine period.
Under the SBWS measure, the government, through the SSS, shall provide a wage subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 per month for each qualified worker, based on the minimum wage levels in the beneficiaries’ respective regions.
Payouts for the first tranche of the SBWS subsidies began on April 30, one day ahead of the announced May 1 to 15 schedule of release.
Payouts for the second tranche are scheduled for May 16 to 31.
Meanwhile, a party-list lawmaker on Sunday said the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) should pay for the full hospitalization and treatment expenses of all COVID-19 patients,
“We want the ‘No Balance Billing policy’ to apply to every COVID-19 patient, regardless of Philhealth’s packaging of the insurance coverage,” Rep. Michael Defensor of Anakalusugan, House health committee vice chairperson, said.
Under the NBB or “Walang Dagdag Bayad” policy, no direct medical expense shall be exacted from the patient for the duration of confinement.
“Every COVID-19 patient should not have to worry about paying a single centavo for hospitalization and treatment,” Defensor said.
For admissions prior to April 15, Philhealth fully paid for the hospitalization and treatment costs of all COVID-19 patients, some of whom incurred bills in excess of P1 million each.
However, Philhealth began adopting case rates for COVID-19 patients for admissions effective April 15. The bundles are: P43,997 for those with mild pneumonia; P143,267 for those with moderate pneumonia; P333,519 for those with severe pneumonia; and P786,384 for those with critical pneumonia.
“The problem with case rate packaging is that not all COVID-19 cases in the same category are the same, precisely because we are dealing with a new disease,” Defensor said.
“For instance, not all COVID-19 patients with critical pneumonia are the same. Some patients may have to stay longer in the intensive care unit (ICU) throughout their hospitalization, and they could end up getting billed in excess of the P786,384 case rate ceiling,” Defensor said.
Philhealth should also guarantee the payment of all additional charges beyond the maximum amount for the package, Defensor said.
The state-run health insurer has plenty of funds – including tens of billions of pesos in annual national government subsidy – to pay for the full cost of the hospitalization and treatment of COVID-19 patients, Defensor, also House public accounts committee chairperson, said.