BVI: Opposition calls for gov’t to create Hardship Fund amid COVID-19 pandemic

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BVI: Opposition calls for gov’t to create Hardship Fund amid COVID-19 pandemic
A section of the main island of Tortola.
A section of the main island of Tortola.

(BVI NEWS) – Members of the Opposition are calling for government to establish a Hardship Fund to help employees cope with the burden of rent over the next two months as the territory prepares for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Making the call on Monday, Opposition Leader Marlon Penn recommended a number of avenues which can be pursued by the recently created Coronavirus Economic and Fiscal Stability Task Force to help benefit residents.

He said: “The creation of a Hardship Fund, similar to that established by the UK and other countries, need to be established with a framework to support vulnerable businesses and employees during this period to help with liquidity and cashflow.”

“Employees need not to choose between paying their rent and feeding their families for the next 60 days, and going out sick and potentially infecting the rest of the population. The stakes are too high at this time,” he added.

Disaster Fund also an avenue

Penn also said the initiative can be financed through the territory’s Disaster Fund and/or Reserve Fund.

“That is where the Disaster Fund comes in and that is also where the Reserve Fund comes in. I think last time when we had the disaster with hurricanes Irma and Maria, we tapped into the Recovery Fund. We now have according to the last report in the House of Assembly, about $80 million plus currently in the Reserve Fund,” Penn explained.

Reshuffle Budget

He further said that government can also look at the possibility of reshuffling the territory’s budget to accommodate more pressing needs during this crucial time.

“We need to look at ways on reallocating funds through the budgetary process to try to help towards things like this, to help the businesses who might experience some type of hardship during this period and put some of those projects on hold that we might have wanted to do this year,” he said.

Social Security Board can assist

Meanwhile, Opposition legislator Mark Vanterpool suggested that the Social Security Board (SSB) examine how they can assist residents who make their respective contributions to the SSB.

“We don’t know how long this thing is going to be affecting us, so it may be time for the Social Security Board itself to start looking at how it can come to aid for some of its contributors, and how they will be able to assist in this specific period of time to try to buttress the wages or whatever maybe needed to help during this difficult time,” Vanterpool stated.

“I know the Premier and others maybe consulting with them, but certainly the Social Security Board and its $600 million fund might be able to somehow for a short period of time help its contributors who are entitled to their contributions at the end of 65,” he added.

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