DBM chief assures gov’t can fund cash aid program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) - The Department of Budget and Management has assured the nation that the government can fund the COVID-19 social amelioration program.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told CNN Philippines that all the funds necessary for the program implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has been released as early as April 24.

"It's really in the aspect of the distribution that we’re having some bottlenecks, otherwise, the funds are already in their hands," Avisado said.

The DSWD earlier said it will finish distributing cash aid to qualified recipients by the end of April.

However, a day before April 30, only 8.7 million beneficiaries out of the target 18 million low-income households have received cash assistance.

Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista earlier said government funds are running low as the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other high risk areas has been extended until May 15.

READ: DSWD Sec. Rolando Bautista says he believes the funds for SAP are running low

But Avisado said the government is still able to provide the needed funds, as it explores all possible funding opportunities pursuant to the authority granted by Congress to the President under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law. This includes the discontinuance of appropriated programs, activities and projects.

"That’s reprogramming, reallocation and realignment of existing budgets and use of income from dividends remitted by government-owned and controlled corporations," Avisado said.

"We can say that up to this point in time, the government is still able to provide the needed funds for this current crisis," he added.

The Duterte administration is currently working within the fiscal year 2020 General Appropriations Act and the fiscal year 2019 continuing appropriations to fund the programs, projects and activities in response to the COVID-19 situation, Avisado said.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved on Monday a fresh $200 million, about ₱10 billion, loan to assist the government's COVID-19 response. The new loan is an addition to the $1.5 billion, about ₱76 billion, loan it earlier approved.

READ: ADB approves new $200 million loan to support gov't cash aid during COVID-19 crisis

When asked how the government will use the additional funds, Avisado said it is still being discussed by the Economic Development Cluster (EDC).

The EDC, headed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, consists of Cabinet secretaries and is tasked to ensure rapid, inclusive, and sustained economic growth.

"At the moment, we’re just using actually the current fiscal year budget and that of last year, because we still have enough funds to provide for their needs," Avisado said.

When asked if funds would permit that middle class households also receive cash assistance, Avisado clarified that they are included in the program.

"We went to the extent of not just funding the requirements to provide amelioration assistance, not only to the informal sector but to the formal sector as well, especially those who have been affected, the micro, small and medium enterprises," he said.

"The President has instructed that all those affected whether informal or formal should now receive corresponding assistance from the government," Avisado added.