Government must remember the people in the middle

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Government must remember the people in the middle

Friday, April 24, 2020

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The world has been plunged into a tailspin with the unexpected arrival of the COVID-19 virus which has spiralled into a nightmare for many countries. Jamaica is one such country that is affected in a big way by the virtual shutdown of the economy. We are at a point at which First World countries that we would once look to for assistance are themselves chasing their tails trying to understand, manage, and control the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The Jamaican Government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been commendable thus far. The Government has been very open in its communicating with the country. It has taken very careful steps to gradually shut down the economy, but not in a way that would cause an instant shock and, most importantly, it has implemented a stimulus package for some of the people hard hit by the effects.

In the past Jamaica was never in a position to assist its citizenry in times of crisis, as financially the economy was always itself in a crisis. Over the past few years the tide has changed with Jamaica becoming a stable, well-managed economy holding admirable cash reserves of over US$3 billion. This has allowed the Government some flexibility in offering some much-needed assistance to over an approximate one million Jamaicans through the COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme, which is valued at $25 billion.

The CARE Programme has nine main categories covering workers who have been laid off, people who are unemployed, tourism workers, Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) beneficiaries, etc. Businesses are also getting some assistance through the small business grant and the tourism grant, which is offered to hotels. Additionally, some taxes and fees have been waived by the Government in an effort to assist businesses.

I am, however, concerned.

It is clear that people earning over $1.5 million have nothing to get. Those at the worst end of the economic pendulum will get some assistance, even those who are informally employed, but others in need are left. It is also very sad that those persons who bear the brunt of taxes in this country are not factored into this CARE programme. PAYE is like an albatross around many of us working-class necks, we also are hit with General Consumption Tax (GCT) — even though we give thanks to Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke for the 1.5 percentage point reduction. We are also hit by taxes when we conduct businesses such as purchasing homes, buying cars, and in many other regular transactions, yet we get zilch in this stimulus package.

It ought not to be perceived that because someone earns over a certain amount that means he/she has a safety net stashed somewhere. This should be the case, but let's face reality; it's not. Many of us who have made it out of abstract poverty and are now in a job earning a near-decent living must assist the rest of our family who have not so lucky. We still must send money to mommy and daddy, help out a younger sibling who is attending school, or some aunty or uncle who is always in a bind and in need of help, and the list of circumstances goes on. Yet we must balance our own affairs, pay our rent or mortgage, pay life insurance, secure a pension, provide for our families, etc. Do we understand that the possibility to save under these conditions are extremely strenuous to almost impossible?

The Government must remember the people in the middle. We ought not to be forgotten; though that is exactly how I feel. Big business, the world over, will get their bailout, the poor will get assistance or in some cases handouts, but the middle class will continue looking for that assistance not based on who we know or who knows us, not because we live in squalor and our next meal solely depend on the extending of a politician's hand, but simply because we have done our part and we have played by the rules. We are a major part of the funding of the economy that we can all be proud of today. The least we could have got back is even 50 per cent of our income tax (Pay As You Earn) payments for the last 2 months. Jamaica Public Service still expects full payment. Flow will still charge and then message us about our outstanding payments. Food prices have surely not reduced. And we have to support online homeschooling with Internet services. The bare essentials for us to navigate this crisis have not changed, and they are surely not easier or cheaper for us. If this COVID-19 crisis continues for much longer we may soon see an increase in “professional” criminals, dressed in their best attire, robbing a supermarket or sticking up a man who just collected his/her CARE Programme cash stimulus payment.

Javid Brown writes from Negril, Westmoreland. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or javidbrown@gmail.com


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