Tourist allowance is phased out with a price tag of $106 million
(CNS): Today the government issued what is likely to be the penultimate payment to displaced workers who were on the tourist allowance scheme, as it transitions those who have yet to return to work into the sector towards different grants or other support initiatives through the Needs Assessment Unit. By the end of June, the government will have spent well over $106 million to support local tourism workers during the pandemic, according to the last digits of the Auditor General.
The Department of Labor has just completed a mandatory survey of the remaining beneficiaries, and although the results have not yet been released, Chief Officer Wesley Howell said the numbers have fallen again as more and more people confirmed that they were back to work.
The second assessment of stipend recipients aimed to assess the need for continued financial support beyond the life of the stipend program. As this winds down, Caymanians who need help finding work or training opportunities are encouraged to register with Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC), where they can access the help they need, including getting an employment services officer for one-on-one job search support.
‘Thank you to those who have contacted the department to advise that they are now employed and no longer in need of the allowance, or that their circumstances have changed and they would like to be removed from the scheme,’ said Howell . “It has helped us to ensure that the resources allocated to this program are placed where they are really needed.”
The Travel Cayman team also helped the ministry with the workload for this program, as they handled many issues, Howell said. “Having additional dedicated resources to help us with queries each month and to offer assistance with completing mandatory surveys helped to respond to customer concerns and queries in a timely manner as we were receiving over 50 to 100 calls a day,” he said. .
The Tourism Allowance was a temporary program set up to help workers coping with the sudden closure of the Cayman borders and a shutdown that lasted nearly two years. But with borders reopening, tourism is now making a steady return, so people are also returning to work and the government hopes to drastically reduce the list that once included more than 3,000 people.
Given the circumstances in March 2020 when the borders were closed, the process to apply for the allowance has been made relatively simple. People were asked for their latest payslips or bills to show that their job or source of income was gone. But along the way, few checks were carried out and the ministry admitted that some people were claiming the money fraudulently. Several cases are currently under investigation.
The names and email addresses of most recipients have been made public due to an error made by ministry staff, which led to widespread reports to the department about people on the list receiving the payments who were already working again. This included four people who were locked up at HMP Northward.
Despite some allocation challenges, payments were essential for many people, such as tour bus drivers and boat captains, given the full lockdown. However, the government now faces the challenge of withdrawing a payment that families depend on. And while people may be back in a certain type of job, some are still earning only a fraction of their old wages at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing.