Food aid more important than cash for Luzon poor in quarantine: UP study

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 08 2020 01:31 PM

Residents of a depressed community in Barangay Paligsahan, Quezon City receive relief goods from village officers on March 19, 2020. Local officials in the barangay level are dipping in to their calamity funds to provide relief assistance during a lockdown of the entire Luzon to contain the spread of COVID-19. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA— Government should focus more on sending food and basic goods than cash aid to families reeling from the impact of a Luzon-wide lockdown now on its fourth week, economists from the University of the Philippines said.

Some 18 million low-income households are set to receive between P5,000 and P8,000 in aid as the government extended the enhanced community quarantine until the end of April to contain the new coronavirus.

"In-kind transfers are superior to cash transfers” during a quarantine, according to a paper from the UP School of Economics, which cited problems such as constraints in the supply chain and warned of people going to public markets or lining up at ATMs despite strict rules on physical distancing.

“Three weeks into the lockdown, the question of meeting basic food needs in a sustained manner has still not been satisfactorily answered,” it said.

“Cash transfer modalities should be set aside for a later date and the focus should instead be on in-kind transfers – food and basic goods - and how to deliver these to the doorsteps of households.”

LEAKAGES

The Luzon lockdown, which covers over 50 million residents, has given rise to problems such as delivering supplies across checkpoints, distributing food aid, and identifying families who are supposed to receive cash assistance from the national government.

Local officials have complained of disparities between the list of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the actual number of low-income households in their respective areas.

The UP paper urged the government “for the time being to set aside targeting parameters that are too fine,” especially during the first round of cash distribution.

“The time lost and administrative, logistical and social costs that will be incurred to complete a comprehensive database and then execute a precise household level targeting mechanism are far greater than the benefits to be gained from avoiding ‘leakages’ to households who are ‘less vulnerable,’” it said.

More families are also expected to become “vulnerable” to the lockdown because of “unpaid furloughs or layoffs that can no longer be put off, depleted savings, higher costs of goods,” the group added.

ELBOW ROOM

The paper cited “enough elbow room to be redundant” or “even to tolerate leakages” in the meantime.

The 18 million low-income families on the government list represent “more than 6 times the estimated number of income-poor households and 18 times the number of food-poor households,” it said citing 2018 data.

Last week, the DSWD deposited P16.3 billion in additional subsidy to the accounts of some 3.7 million beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program, the executive branch reported to Congress on Monday.

The department said it had also distributed more than 190,000 food packs, augmenting those made available by local governments.

Emergency subsidies for Metro Manila residents “need not be so limited or constrained,” according to the UP paper, noting that the region is “ground-zero” for COVID-19 at present.

“Mechanisms and resources can be adjusted for other jurisdictions later, as needed,” it said.

“There is… no reason for emergency subsidies to be spent on all provinces and cities at this time. More than half of all provinces, including 15 out of 38 in Luzon, do not have reported cases of residents contracting the disease.”