More money for businesses and schools
At the meeting of Finance Committee recently, support for business initiatives increased by $4 million, helping businesses impacted by Covid border closures.
Minister for Social Development, Andre Ebanks, in response to questioning by the Leader of the Opposition Roy McTaggart, said that the request for this additional funding of $4 million for business development came about from the previous meeting of Finance Committee, to help those impacted by border closure due to Covid who had tourism-related businesses.
Land and sea tour operators had made a compelling case that, while the stipend system assisted them personally, they didn't have stipends to assist the business itself, so this was to assist with business funding to maintain business assets and prepare them for readiness for reopening. At that time, there was discussion to see if more money was needed, as Government had been taking a cautious approach to this new concept, but now they anticipated such entities could apply as from Monday 6th September for some funding assistance. They also hoped to expand the programme to other sectors of the tourism industry trying to maintain their business in readiness for the border reopening.
MP Joey Ebanks asked whether those who, up until now, had not been eligible for the stipend, such as bed and breakfast owners, but who were still financially impacted by the border closure, could apply.
Minister Ebanks said those were exactly the type of people who they envisioned would receive this funding.
“This additional funding is to try and fill that gap,” he said.
Land purchase increase
Finance Committee also approved an increase by $2 million for monies for acquiring land. Mr McTaggart asked if there was a list of properties approved for purchase.
Juliana O’Connor Connolly, Minister for District Administration and Lands, explained: “This is a continuation of the policy to acquire the very important beach property and access, so there is not a completed list yet.”
However Members who believed that certain properties should be purchased could submit their request, she advised.
Money for schools
Finance Committee also approved an increase of monies in the amount of $200,200 so that the Education Ministry could purchase cloth masks for school children.
MP Barbara Conolly asked whether this was suggesting that students might have to wear masks to school once they opened for the new school year.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor Connolly said that decision had not as yet been made as to students wearing masks in schools but that the situation had been ongoing because students were still required to wear masks on school buses.Once the country opened up, the science would be looked at and they would assess the situation then.
Finance Committee then approved $3,100,996 for a public school meals programme. Minister O’Connor-Connolly explained that free meals needed to be provided, so breakfast, snack and lunch would be given to public primary school students, with a nutritionalist on board to ensure that the meals were healthy. The Lighthouse School was included in this programme. Secondary schools should be included in January.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Minister O’Connor Connolly said.
Local overseas scholarships and bursaries would get a big increase, of $8.7 million, to assist students with their tertiary education, effectively doubling the original amount. Fifty to 60 percent of those funds was allocated as a prepayment for the spring term’s scholarship funding, the Education Minister advised. Funds were also being allocated to top up the actual budget needs not provided in the last budget.
Parks and farmers gain from financial boosts
Public parks and cemeteries are to receive a $500,000 boost in their maintenance and management, as agreed in Finance Committee last Wednesday.
Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart noted that this was to assist with the NICE programme and asked as to when the programme was to begin.
Minister for Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, Jay Ebanks, said the NICE programme would begin the first part of the winter season, in December.
Post disaster recovery works will also get a boost of $500,000, for which the Opposition Leader asked which areas were the Government seeking to help when it comes to alleviating flooding.
"The NRA has identified several areas throughout the whole island in need of drains. We’ve identified about 80 new drains that need to be put in throughout the whole island,” Minister Ebanks stated.
MP Alden McLaughlin questioned whether that was sufficient funds realistically, taking into consideration we were only half way through hurricane season.
Minister Ebanks said there was the ability to increase the funding, if necessary.
Farmers get $3 million
Post Storm Grace, $3 million was granted in assistance to farmers.
Minister Ebanks said: “Based on the assessments carried out to date, most of the significant impact was through the crop farmers, in particular those farmers who produced a lot of the fruit trees and banana trees. Up to date, we have at least 145 farmers that were impacted by tropical storm [Grace] -119 of those are crop farmers and about 25 of them are large banana and plantain farm producers.”
This funding would be allocated to the farmers to help them be able to meet their income gap based on the level of damage to their farms, he advised, adding that there was a specific criteria to follow to determine how much they would receive.
The grant was only for licenced commercial farmers to help with the loss to their income, not for casual “backyard” farmers.
MP Alden McLaughlin, who owns a large farm himself, commended the Department of Agriculture in their assistance to farmers since Tropical Storm Grace, as they had been spending about a half a day per commercial farm to help farmers survive post storm.