As part of a $62.9 million stimulus package announced in late May, a $10 million Unemployment Relief Fund was created and administered through the Social Security Board. (File photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Out of 22 Caribbean countries and territories surveyed recently by the International Labour Organisation, the Virgin Islands offered the fewest types of Covid-19 stimulus to businesses — two out of a possible seven, according to a new report titled “Covid-19 and the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean labour market: A rapid assessment of the impact and policy responses at the end of Q3, 2020.”

“Government policy responses have been designed mostly to provide emergency or temporary relief but were, at the same time, many, usually quick and structured,” the report stated. “While typically limited in magnitude, [the measures] have allowed citizens, workers and business, albeit not all, to keep afloat.” The report noted that in 13 of the 22 jurisdictions examined, governments required businesses to retain employees in order to
receive assistance.

The VI did not make this requirement, although the government gathered information on grant recipients to assess their business plans and financial health, as well as offering training support.

Categories

In the report, assistance was grouped into seven categories: Grants, loans or loan guarantees; salary subsidies; utility assistance/discounts/waivers/deferrals; tax relief (e.g. credits, waivers or deferrals) and reductions; reductions, waivers or deferrals of other fees and penalties and loan moratoria; waivers/deferrals of social security contributions; and business coaching or technical assistance.

Of the seven measures, the report found that Belize employed the most, with six. The report did not assess the amount of aid given, but only the different types.

The report found that the VI offered only two types of assistance: utility assistance, in the form of an amnesty for electricity payments; and grants and loans to businesses in the form of the Social Security Board-funded stimulus package, which included the $6.5 million business grant programme and various $1-2 million allocations set aside to help industries including hospitality and agriculture.

Park and ride

Although the breadth of measures the VI took were less than in other countries, the territory did win praise for one of its recent innovations.
“In a particularly innovative step, the [VI] developed a City Park and Ride Shuttle Service, paying taxi operators to operate free shuttles in a dual attempt to create a ‘pedestrian-friendly Road Town’ and protect drivers from job loss,” the report stated.

The programme launched in June with two lines offer- ing rides between the Port Purcell and Prospect Reef roundabouts.

However, despite the praise, the VI government has not been provided a comprehensive up- date on how much money has been spent on various stimulus programmes and how exactly it was used.

Regional economy

The report also included an update about the regional recovery of the labour market, with ILO-modelled estimates from September suggesting a gradual recovery during the third quarter of 2020 even though “losses remain high.”
Data show that despite a re-duction between the second and third quarter of 2020, work hour losses in the Caribbean alone are expected to remain high, at 12.8 percent, in line with the global average of 12.1 percent. This number, however, is substantially lower than the combined average of 25.6 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean, “which is significantly skewed by the [Caribbean],” explained the report.

And although 1.87 million “full-time-equivalent” jobs are expected to be lost in the Caribbean due to the pandemic, fortunes have improved in the VI and other countries that have recently opened their borders.

“Recovery can be imputed to the partial reopening of the tourism sector starting from June 2020, which provided im-mediate benefits in certain
countries,” the report noted. “These included increasing the hours worked and most likely the number of people employed, as well as the more or less concomitant relaxation of the strictest social/physical distancing rules.”


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