(CMR) An examination of current criteria to receive the tourism stipend is to be done after it was found that several persons receiving the stipend are gainfully employed and may no longer be in need of the monthly government assistance that was intended to help tourism workers. It was discussed in Finance Committee on Monday morning that the PACT government is keen to implement some checks and balances before considering the feasibility of an increase.
Addressing questions from members of the opposition about the possibility of increasing the tourism stipend from $1500 to $2000 each month, Minister of Tourism Kenneth Bryan said there needs to be an assessment done before a decision can be made regarding the increase. This comes on the heels of the government recently requiring all current recipients to complete an online tourism stipend survey.
Bryan also noted that there were no real criteria for receiving the funds except that a person claimed that they were in the tourism industry. There was no need to provide any supporting documentation or prove need. He told members of Parliament that this would have to be changed before any consideration can be given to an increase.
The Finance Committee approved $27.5 million for the tourism stipend fund on Monday.
Moses Kirkconnell suggested that the tourism ministry applies for $40 million to increase the stipend.
However, Bryan said with the numerous programs now being undertaken, if the budget increase, then there could be a deficit.
He said while the stipend could increase when the government carries out its assessment, the criteria for persons receiving the stipend have to be reexamined.
“Due to a lack of examination of persons who are getting the stipend, it's difficult to tell who is truly deserving of the stipend. We hear the discussion about who is needy of it. Sadly when the stipend was created, all you had to submit you were working in tourism at that time and you were affected in some way,” Bryan said
“There are no criteria right now to say have you been back to work…there are some people who are now currently full-time working and are still receiving the money.”
The Tourism Minister said a survey not released yet found that 35 percent of persons in the tourism industry are back to working five hours a day, and they are still receiving the money. It also found that 74 percent of recipients are working 30 hours or less for the week.
It was also revealed that two persons now fully employed by Government were found to be still receiving the stipend.
While this is happening, Minister Bryan said some persons in need had not received a stipend. He reiterated that his ministry would be making the assessment to make sure those who are in need get help.
Currently, 3471 persons are receiving a stipend, while the ministry is in the process of verifying 441 applications to see if they meet the criteria.
“This administration is committed to ensure that those who are in need will get, but the truth of the matter is, the criteria that was set out before was not efficient enough to tell who is genuinely in need,” Bryan added.
He said within a month, the Government will make its decision known regarding how the program will continue.
Bryan explained, “I don't want a situation where there is an audit done, and they say how can't you say whether this person was in need or not.”
Bryan said the way the criteria are set up gives room to call for an audit.
Meantime, if vaccination levels reach 80 percent, the tourism industry could partially reopen by October. This would result in the tourism stipend being cut instead of increased.