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Food Pantry and COVID-19 relief – The PUP struggle to deliver in its first 100 days

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Posted: Monday, February 22, 2021. 4:14 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: The new Briceno administration has faced several challenges during its first 100 days in office.

Before November 11, 2020, the Dean Barrow Government had implemented a COVID-19 unemployment relief program. The program was designed so that Belizeans could apply online, go through a vetting process and then receive $100 or $150 in their bank accounts for a period of 12 weeks.

In phase 2 of the program, the Government said that over 42,000 applications were approved totaling $38 million. The food pantry program reached over 39,000 households in a report given in September 2020.

In addition, the UDP budgeted and delivered a food pantry program that benefited the needy and was critical support for the poor and underprivileged during the COVID-19 lockdown. Both the COVID-19 unemployment relief and the food pantry were not sustainable in the long haul, but former Prime Minister Barrow indicated that the programs would continue at least up to the November elections. Belize borrowed to deliver on these programs and the programs had their flaws but many families benefited.

In comes the PUP, both programs stalled, and their start date went beyond what was committed by the new Minister of Human Development, Dolores Balderamos Garcia. Moreover, the budget for the food pantry program had been exhausted, and the new government would have to maintain an outstretched hand of borrowing in order to continue some semblance of a COVID-19 cash or unemployment relief program.

The new government changed the name of the food pantry program to the ‘grocery bag’ program and the COVID-19 unemployment relief to the COVID-19 cash transfer program. The COVID-19 cash transfer program will provide supplementary short-term emergency cash to 21,500 households that have not qualified for other social assistance schemes. Beneficiaries will receive three payments of $300 every two months for a six-month period.

The combined Food Pantry Program and Food Assistance Program, now known as the “Grocery Bag,” will only be extended to the end of the current financial year in March, Minister for Human Development Dolores Balderamos-Garcia said in January. In addition, the Minister explained that not everyone can get.

In his end of the year speech, Prime Minister John Briceno explained the dire state of the nation’s economy and indicated that in 2021, sacrifices will be made.

BBN has learned that each Government ministry has been asked to cut its budget by 15%. The stipend given to members of statutory boards is also being slashed by 50%.

Undoubtedly, due to the financial constraints being faced by the country’s economy, the incoming administration has and will continue to struggle to deliver all its pledges in their Plan Belize manifesto.

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