No funds for COVID-19 allowance on proposed 2023 budget - think tank

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2022 12:33 PM

Health workers hold a picket outside the headquarters of the Department of Health in Manila on Sept. 6, 2022 to protest over the unreleased COVID-19 benefits. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Health workers hold a picket outside the headquarters of the Department of Health in Manila on Sept. 6, 2022 to protest over the unreleased COVID-19 benefits. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippine government may not be able to provide COVID-19 allowance to healthcare workers next year, a think tank said Wednesday.

According to Zy-Za Suzara, executive director of Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD), there is no fund allocated for COVID-19 benefits in the proposed 2023 national budget. 

"With the current proposal of the executive branch, it's unlikely that the benefits of the health-care workers will be given next year," she told ANC's "Rundown".

"As far as our analysis of the 2023 proposed budget of the DOH (Department of Health) is concerned, we did not find there a budget for the benefits of the COVID-19 health-care workers," she added.

What iLEAD saw in the government's spending proposal, amounting to P5.856 trillion, was some P18 billion parked under "unprogrammed appropriations," she said. 

This budget allocation will only be funded if there is excess in revenue collections or approved loans, she added.

A group of health-care workers on Tuesday staged a protest in front of the DOH's central office in Manila against still unpaid COVID-19 benefits and to demand wage increase.

Suzara said there is an expected salary increase for state workers next year, mandated by the Salary Standardization Law.

"But in terms of paying the benefits, as well as the hazard pay of health-care workers, then we might have a problem with that, unless the government is able to raise extra revenues," she said.

"But that seems so far-fetched at this point in time given the deficit that we've incurred in the last couple of years since the pandemic."

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Last week, the DOH said it was coordinating with the Department of Budget Management to hasten the release of additional COVID-19 benefits for medical frontliners.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire has said the agency submitted additional documentary requirements to the DBM to facilitate the release of funds.

In a statement also issued last week, the DBM vowed to immediately process the request for additional funds "as long as DOH can address the deficiencies in the documentary requirements."

In February, the DBM released to the DOH a total of P7.9 billion to cover the One COVID-19 Allowance of both healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers pursuant to Republic Act 11712. 

Under the OCA, health workers who are identified to be at high risk shall receive P9,000 a month while those who are determined to be in moderate and low risk are entitled to a monthly benefit of P6,000 and P3,000, respectively.

The DOH requested again for the release of P63 billion on May 26, according to the DBM.

The budget department on June 8 sent the DOH a response letter requesting it to address deficiencies on documentary requirements. 

"Essentially, we requested them to substantiate their request by sending us the budget breakdown, segregation, actual names of claimants, and other relevant documents for us to clearly determine the universe of eligible beneficiaries," the DBM said.

Subsequent meetings were held between the departments in relation to the data requirement "until the request was finally returned by DBM, on June 29, reiterating the required data from the DOH," the statement reads.

"DOH replied to us on July 15, but they were only able to address and substantiate documents that are related to unpaid COVID-19 sickness and death claims for FY 2020 and 2021 worth P570 million, which enabled us to release the same amount in August," the DBM said.