House ends plenary deliberations on DSWD’s proposed 2021 budget

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 14 2020 06:10 AM

MANILA - The House of Representatives terminated on Tuesday the plenary deliberations on the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s proposed P171.2-billion budget for 2021.

“As incidents of poverty is projected to increase, this representation would like to underscore the social welfare and developments concerns that should be among the exigent priorities in the country,” the agency’s budget sponsor at the lower chamber, Negros Oriental 1st District Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong said.

During the budget deliberations at the plenary, some lawmakers questioned the absence of allocation for cash aid under the social amelioration program (SAP) in the DSWD’s proposed 2021 budget, even when the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely still be felt next year.

“Wasak pa rin ang kabuhayan ng milyun-milyong Pilipino. Sa kabilang banda, naka-embudo ang pondo sa mga proyektong imprastraktura na tila wala tayong pandemya,” Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said.

She urged lawmakers to fund a program that will grant P10,000 cash aid to unemployed and poor Filipino families.

Limkaichong explained that while the DSWD’s proposed budget for next year has no provision for SAP, the agency’s funding for protection services program increased. Part of the program is the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS), which also grants financial assistance to beneficiaries.

“Although SAP is not included in the 2021 budget, but there’s an increase in the protection services program of DSWD, which, I believe can answer the assistance to individual in crisis,” Limkaichong said.
    
“The AICS, the protection, which has increased to P12 billion is also in line with the item of SAP. So the social amelioration program is inclusive in the protection services,” she added.

Limkaichong noted that the agency has realigned to AICS P6.5 billion in “savings” from SAP funds. These were untapped after the number of SAP beneficiaries was trimmed from 18 million families for the first tranche to 14 million families for the second tranche.

“Ang naiwan nalang is around P6.5 billion. According to our financial manager, ‘yung P6.5 billion na ‘yun was realigned for AICS to help the vulnerable sectors,” Limkaichong said.

DSWD’s records show that it has completed the distribution of cash aid under the second tranche of SAP to more than 13.96 million families or 97% of target beneficiaries. Among the recipients of cash aid are 1.4 million senior citizens, who are heads of families.

The DSWD, meanwhile, committed to inform SAP beneficiaries of the refund process for cash out fees exceeding P50.

“There’s a continuing activity in giving out the refund by G-cash or through its networks,” Limkaichong said.

UNCONDITIONAL CASH TRANSFER

Brosas also questioned the absence of funding for unconditional cash transfer next year. The UCT is a social mitigation program to cushion the impact on the poor of tax reforms under the TRAIN law.

“The UCT or the unconditional cash transfer, under the TRAIN law is only up to 2020. If it is the desire of Congress to continue the program, then the law can be extended by the legislators,” Limkaichong responded.

SOCIAL PENSION PROGRAM

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate pushed for the augmentation of DSWD’s budget for the social pension program next year. The program grants a monthly stipend of P500 pesos to indigent senior citizens who are “frail, sickly, or with disability”.

Zarate said the budget cut on the program will affect 91,000 elderly Filipinos who may not receive pension or be placed on the “waiting list”. 

“Isa sa pinakatinamaang sektor during the (COVID) crisis ang ating elderly people,” he noted.

“Under IATF guidelines, our elderly people cannot even engage anymore in gainful activities, dahil sa edad nila. Kailangan nilang manatili sa bahay. So dapat i-consider natin ‘yun. Dapat iconsider natin yun,” Zarate told fellow lawmakers.

He added: “There is for example a P19 billion allocated to the National Task Force to end local communist armed conflict. Hindi naman siya line agency. Why not realign that to the needs of our elderly people?”

“It all depends on Congress, if Congress, my dear colleagues, will support and approve the realignment of certain budget for this particular program,” Limkaichong replied.

Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, then asked DSWD how it assists children with disability cope with the shift to distance learning.

According to the National Council for Disability Affairs, it provides them with tablets and pocket WiFi.

“They also train the parents in order to assist their children with the disability,” Limkaichong added.

The House of Representatives earlier reopened deliberations on the 2021 national budget hours after majority of lawmakers voted to install Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as the chamber's new Speaker.