COVID relief package for MSMEs sought

A HOUSE leader on Sunday said she is hoping that the next coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) relief package would focus on supporting businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), trying to stay afloat during the crisis.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera said measures such as providing low interest and non-collateral loans to MSMEs and 30-day grace period for commercial rents under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or Bayanihan 2, are “welcome but do not go far enough.”

“The government not only needs to deliver targeted aid to smaller businesses that need help the most, but also reduce the tax burdens and red tape that are holding many businesses back,” Herrera said.

The House leader said the government should also extend the same help to large companies that employ a lot of workers.

Herrera, a champion of MSMEs in Congress, said there is also need to help small businesses to pay their monthly rent, which is the largest overhead for most of them.

“We have to take note that commercial rent relief has been the main request of small businesses since mandatory closures began in mid-March as a result of the community quarantine imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Herrera pointed out.

At the same time, Herrera lamented that the present relief package may be “too little, too late” for many MSMEs.

“After almost six months since the first government-imposed community quarantine, a lot of small businesses have shut permanently and more worry they may also have to close down for good if current conditions don’t improve,” she said.

Nevertheless, Herrera remains hopeful on the House-approved Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) bill, which contains a P1.3 trillion economic stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is my fervent hope that the ARISE bill will serve as the third coronavirus relief package, after the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and the Bayanihan 2, which reconciled bicameral version was recently ratified by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and is now awaiting President Duterte’s signature,” Herrera said.

The House approved the ARISE bill on third and final reading as early as June. But the National Economic Development Authority declared the spending plan under the ARISE bill was “not fundable.”

This prompted Herrera to urge President Duterte’s economic managers to sit down with lawmakers to finalize a stimulus package that would truly respond to the economic fallout of COVID-19.

The lady solon was optimistic the economic managers and legislators would eventually unite on the stimulus package for the sake of workers and industries shuttered by the pandemic.

The ARISE bill seeks to protect and assist up to 15.7 million workers and create 3 million short-term jobs over the period of three years, and help up to 5.57 million workers at MSMEs.

For this year alone, the spending plan includes assistance to various sectors such as MSMEs (P10 billion); tourism (P58 billion); industry and services (P44 billion); transportation (P70 billion); agri-fisheries (P66 billion); and funding for the National Emergency Investment Vehicle (P25 billion) to “minimize permanent damage to the economy.”