Up to 60,000 jobless SSS members may avail of cash benefit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 10) – The Social Security System has set aside ₱1.2 billion for thousands of private sector workers rendered jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic, subject to certain conditions.

The state-run pension firm earlier said it can accommodate up to 60,000 members for its unemployment benefit program amid the COVID-19 crisis. However, the number is well below the 7.3 million Filipinos who were jobless by April, or at the height of lockdown protocols meant to contain the spread of the disease.

The Department of Finance earlier bared that it is ready to release the cash grant to workers expected to lose their jobs due to strict quarantine rules, with the benefit capped at ₱20,000 per displaced individual.

SSS has set standards for members looking to secure the cash grant:

- An applicant must be below 60 years old when they were removed from their job. For miners, they should be 50 years old or younger, while racehorse jockeys seeking the benefit must be aged 55 or younger.

- An applicant must have paid contributions to the SSS for at least 36 months, with at least 12 payments remitted in the last 18 months before they were booted out of work.

- A worker must not have received an unemployment benefit in the past three years when he/she applied for the perk.

- The following are the accepted reasons for unemployment that will qualify a worker for this SSS benefit: the introduction of machines that will replace human labor, redundancy, retrenchment to prevent losses, company closure or cessation of operations, having an ailment that may affect coworkers or is banned from rendering labor, an economic collapse, natural disasters, and other cases decided on by the Department of Labor and Employment.

- Workers who stopped reporting for work due to serious insult by the employer or his representative on the honor and person of the employee, inhumane and unbearable treatment, the commission of an offense or crime against a worker or his family, and similar situations can likewise seek to avail of this benefit.

The benefit applies to all private sector workers, including household helpers and overseas Filipino workers who were laid off, terminated, or "involuntarily separated" from their work.

However, SSS said employees who were rightfully dismissed under the Labor Code – such as those who were caught involved in serious misconduct, gross and habitual neglect, fraud or willful breach of trust, and the commission of a crime against his/her employer and immediate family members – are disqualified from receiving the benefit.

The unemployment benefit is a new form of assistance introduced in August 2019, which is part of reforms introduced through the Social Security Act of 2018. The cash grant, which the SSS said is patterned a similar program offered by European countries, is meant to assist a worker as they look for another job or find a fresh source of livelihood.

Claims must be filed within one year after the employee was let go by an employer. The benefit can be availed once every three years, and cannot be availed together with a different SSS cash grant.

To apply, a displaced worker must present a government-issued primary ID and a certification from DOLE certifying the date of their termination from work. To get this, an employee must present their notice of termination of employment to DOLE field offices, provincial offices, or overseas labor offices in the case of OFWs.

If granted, the cash will be deposited to the SSS UMID card or Quick Card of the applicant.

The ₱1.2 billion unemployment benefit package forms part of the government's ₱595.6-billion spending plan to provide emergency support to vulnerable groups and residents during the coronavirus crisis.

SSS previously announced that the deadline for payment of member contributions covering February to April has been extended to June 15, factoring in the enhanced community quarantine in parts of the country due to the pandemic.

Separately, the pension firm is also implementing the Small Business Wage Subsidy Program to help small businesses pay the wages of their workers as they stopped operations during the lockdown period. This involves a ₱51 billion fund, which grants cash aid worth ₱5,000-₱8,000 to workers from micro, small and medium enterprises.

SSS contributions are capped at ₱2,400 a month, which may be split between employer and employee. These are typically deducted automatically from the monthly pay and remitted to SSS offices.