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Financial relief is nigh for approximately 26,000 employees within the tourism sector whose employers applied for assistance on their behalf, under the Government’s $10-billion COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

This, as a total of 250 applications are now being processed for the Programme’s Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) component, which is designed to aid eligible registered entities in retaining workers in tourism and related sectors over the March 10, 2020 to June 30, 2020 period.

BEST Cash is one of eight components of the CARE Programme, which is aimed at cushioning the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by providing financial assistance to workers and businesses adversely affected.

The BEST Cash initiative will provide temporary cash transfers to registered businesses that are operating in the hotel, tours, attraction, and segments of the industry that are registered with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), based on the number of workers they keep employed.

The cash disbursements under the BEST Cash component and other aspects of the CARE Programme are expected to be a welcome support mechanism for tourism workers, given the fact that the industry is one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, with many jobs and livelihoods impacted.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr. the Hon. Nigel Clarke, in giving an update on the CARE Programme during a virtual press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday (May 18), informed that payments for the BEST Cash component are expected to be made during this month.

He noted that payouts would follow a review of the verification process, which is now being undertaken for BEST Cash applications to ensure compliance.

Businesses that apply and qualify for BEST Cash are to receive $9,000 per fortnight for each employee retained on their payroll who are at or under the income tax threshold of $1.5 million per annum, as confirmed by Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ).

Payments that amount to $54,000 in total for each employee are to be made monthly for the months of April, May and June 2020 directly to the applicable business’ bank accounts.

Importantly, former tourism workers who earned below the income tax threshold of $1.5 million and whose employment was terminated after March 10 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are also catered to under the Supporting Employees with Transfer (SET) Cash component of the CARE Programme.

Also benefiting tourism stakeholders are the COVID-19 General Grants, which provide one-time payments to support persons who operate businesses registered with a Municipal Authority, the TPDCo or the Transport Authority; and the COVID-19 Tourism Grants for businesses operating in the tourism sector, inclusive of registered hotels, attractions and tours.

Overall, 19 categories of businesses and workers in the industry, who must be registered and licensed with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and TPDCo to be eligible, are expected to benefit. These also include villas, apartments, water sport operators, in-bond merchants, guest houses, homestay, car rentals, bike rentals, travel agency companies, airport red cap porters, raft captains, craft vendors, craft producers, contract carriage, and golf caddies.

Other industry players who are involved in agriculture, manufacturing, services, energy, water and a number of other areas that are central to the tourism delivery system are expected to be captured in other areas of the CARE Programme.

In the meantime, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, said tourism stakeholders have welcomed the financial assistance the Government is providing for the sector during the crisis.

“The workers of the industry are very heartened by the action of the Government. In fact, they have been indicating their delight that something is being done. The feeling is one of hope, and the feeling is one of appreciation for the steps the Government is taking,” he told JIS News.

Deemed crucial to the economy, and dubbed the “lifeblood of Jamaica” by Minister Bartlett, the tourism industry directly employs 170,000 persons and at least 150,000 indirectly. It also contributes 9.5 per cent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 60 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.

The CARE Programme has received more than 500,000 applications from individuals and businesses since it was launched via the www.wecare.gov.jm website on April 9.

The other components of the CARE Programme include the COVID-19 Small Business Grants to support small businesses that have sales of $50 million or less, which filed payroll returns and filed taxes for the 2019/2020 financial year; and the COVID-19 PATH Grants, which provide additional support to beneficiaries currently enrolled under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

There is also the COVID-19 Compassionate Grant component, which is geared towards the unemployed, the marginally or informally employed, the elderly, and students older than 18, provided that they have not applied for and are not in receipt of any other direct cash benefit under the CARE Programme.

Additionally, the COVID-19 Student Loan Relief, provides a deferral of student loan principal and interest payments for three months (until July 2020) for loans outstanding to the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB). The COVID-19 Student Loan Relief automatically applies to all persons repaying student loans to the SLB.

The CARE Programme forms part of the $25-billion relief package implemented by the Government to address the pandemic.

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