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House debates OFID loan motion for Food Assistance Program

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Posted: Friday, July 24, 2020. 2:24 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The COVID-19 Food Assistance Program created by the Government, originally with $10 million out of $75 million loaned by the Central Bank in April, will continue with a US$10 million loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), brought to the House of Representatives today.

Minister for Human Development Anthony Martinez explained that in addition to the extension of the Program, the BOOST cash transfer program would be expanded and extended to meet more needs.

He reminded that the Program is limited to those not already receiving assistance from BOOST, food pantry, the extended Unemployment Relief Program, or who are already working.

But Opposition members from Stann Creek West, Toledo East and Toledo West complained that their constituents had in the main not received assistance regularly.

Toledo East’s Mike Espat remarked that the Ministry of Human Development office in Punta Gorda Town was closed for some time and he and his colleague Oscar Requeña recited complaints from constituents who feel they have been left out.

Collet representative Patrick Faber hit back, saying that Requeña, in particular, wanted more influence over who got assistance, namely PUPs.

But Pickstock’s Wilfred Elrington, citing his own family’s example, said, “the solution is to plant – the solution is to teach all of us…how to plant.” He mentioned that Belize, Guyana and Suriname are being looked at as the potential “breadbasket” of the Caribbean and that there is no guarantee that tourism will return in its salad days, so this is a “wonderful opportunity” to teach food production in schools and to families.

Elrington dismissed the questions as to who gets what as “banal and irrelevant,” insisting that we do not have to import food items if we support our local producers, whether in livestock or agriculture, and our precious foreign exchange can be saved for more important purchases like medicines. He also called for education of Belizeans on how to eat healthily and take advantage of what we make here, and find and use markets for our excess produce.

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