The Department of Health said Wednesday there were no funds for the special risk allowance (SRA) of health workers in the 2022 budget.
At a budget briefing before the House committee on health, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the budget for the SRA was in the Bayanihan 3 bill, which has been approved by the House, but remains pending in the Senate.
DOH director Larry Cruz, meanwhile, said that of the P311 million released by the Department of Budget and Management last week, P308 billion was already disbursed to various health facilities.
But Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said only 20,000 workers would get their allowances, as opposed to 148,000 who must be paid.
She also said the Bayanihan 2 allocated P13.5 billion for allowances, which means the P311 million released by the DBM was not enough.
Quimbo said health care workers should have received an average of P34,000 in special risk allowances each. That means there was a funding shortfall of P5 billion.
She also said future SRA payments were in jeopardy, because there is no assurance that Bayanihan 3 will become a law.
At the same time, Duque said health workers with indirect exposure to COVID-19 cases could only qualify for SRA through a new law, since Bayanihan 2 specified that only those with direct contact with COVID-19 cases would get the allowance.
If they handed out the SRA to these workers, state auditors would again flag that expenditure, he said.
“The interpretation cannot be left to the head of the agency because it is a law. It is only by way of legislation that this can be amended,” Duque added.
“Otherwise the COA (Commission on Audit) will run after all our chiefs of hospitals, they will run after everybody else that allowed it, despite the clear provision of the law,” he added.
Thousands of health care workers have complained of not having received the SRA due them and some have resorted to mass action to press for payment of their allowances.
Duque in August said the Health department will look into savings that it could realign for risk allowances, given that billions of the department’s budget for the same provision were unobligated.
However, the COA report that flagged “deficiencies” in the use of P67.32 billion worth of COVID-19 funds, including P11.89 billion, which remained unobligated as of Dec. 31, 2020, and reverted back to the Bureau of the Treasury, was issued soon after Duque made the promise.
The DBM on Aug. 25 said it has released P311.79 million for the much-delayed SRAs.
Duque said the DOH has also sought legal assistance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the issue of releasing SRAs for health care workers with indirect contact to COVID-19 patients.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said on Wednesday that around 120,000 health care workers have yet to receive their special risk allowance.
Vega, in an interview on ANC, said the number of projected health care workers eligible to receive their SRAs that the DOH has submitted to the Congress is at 526,000.
“We have given [the SRA to] almost 379,000 [health care workers] and 20,000 plus, so we are actually just looking at 100,000 plus health care workers where we are going to give the SRA,” Vega said.
“We are slowly moving towards it. That’s roughly about 76 or 78 percent of the health care workers totality in terms of the frontliners,” he added.
Vega said the DOH started to distribute the SRAs in June, where almost 379,000 health care workers, from both public and private hospitals, have already received the first batch of SRAs.
Also on Wednesday, Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda said the department was having difficulty finding a source for the P13 billion the DOH has sought to cover health workers’ meal, accommodation and transportation (MAT) allowances.
Any such allowances are supposed to be charged against the DOH budget, she said, adding that such provision was clearly stated on the approval, which came from the Office of the President.
But she said the size of the fund and the number of claims were huge, adding that amount was difficult to accommodate with the DOH budget.