Unemployment insurance?

NEDA director general explains over radio interview the instant program of government to parcel out from the Social Security System or through some other source of subsidy such as the stimulus package a certain amount to support the proposed unemployment insurance benefits to be given to those former employees in the private sector who now find themselves unemployed. It is to consist of a 6-month relief period whereby any qualified applicant can receive a minimum monthly salary while looking for a job. It was not made clear by Mr. Recto whether or not such amount that was received will have to be repaid or otherwise automatically deducted from whatever amounts the SSS may in fact owe to that bonafide SSS member-employee. And this propaganda is bandied as one of those things GMA wants to be able to provide to cushion off crippling impact of the US economic downturn, or so it’s said.

Theoretically, Recto is saying that perhaps, a P10,000 monthly benefit will be received from SSS by those applicants who are now unemployed who availed of the program. In general, he is saying that those who are now unemployed or are already seeing the ghost of near unemployment can avail of this financial relief as soon as the mechanics would have been formulated. In the meantime, this is a piece of promissory note. But there are those who think that this is not anything new since any SSS member can always draw an amount from the SSS proportionate to the amount he has invested in the system. In other words, one gets what one deposited with perhaps, a little bit of an interest by way of dividends. So what’s new?

In a cultural landscape where so much of sense of anxiety and uncertainty pervades the air, one gets to breathe anew with this pronouncement coming from the bureaucracy. This then comes as a sort of good news as it brings them to a ‘sub-station’ to get their journey to new job – should that even exist for them – come about. Well, maybe, what sounds like good news is good news only for hopeful grantees but only to find out that it is their own money they are in fact receiving from the pension system. Be that as it may, there is Recto to somehow ‘propagandize’ a bit on what the government has done and continues to do to uplift people from foreseeable financial plague. By his own theorizing, Recto is trying to tell us that the unemployed are actually just about 40,000 all in all starting from a 100,000 unemployment rate that has been earlier addressed. To believe that data is, of course, something else but we just may have to suppose that to be true.

Some quarters view however this move as not intended to address the real problem of unemployment but to sort of just sugar-coat it before people can take the bitter pill. In short, they are not even thankful for a program said to be intended to ease their plight. What they want is for government to create a condition for the unemployed to in fact find the window of all possible opportunities for gainful employment barring any 6-month mere palliative approach. In short, if we go by the marshmallow test, these quarters can wait for another 6-month without getting the ‘government marshmallow’ provided however that after that sweet 6-month time, they all get two marshmallows. How about that for a treat?

Maybe, even Recto would not have to go against this scenario. The good NEDA chief contemplates something like at least P6 billion to be infused into the program to get it going. He did not fail to say that this is a model copied from better-kept societies in the world if he even approximates that we belong to that league of welfare states. Nonetheless, the intention is good and the effect is quite anesthetic. It stands to reason that it is better that this P6 billion budget pie be touched to the exclusive use of unemployed SSS members. And what about non-SSS members priorly employed but now terminated since companies after another are folding tent?

Some questions may have to be confronted with answers. For one, can P6 billion be parceled out of the pension fund of SSS to benefit its now-unemployed former members? And for another, would such money be repaid back to the pension fund system so no huge amount tends to threaten it with bankruptcy? Further to this, will government be allowed to infuse new money into the pension fund from the stimulus package for the purpose of a program in perhaps a kind of joint-venture agreement without possible legal complications? Or is this just another way of ‘returning’ some monies taken out of the basin through some dismal (mis)management problem obtaining at the SSS? At an earlier statement, it is SSS that would give the government a shot in the arm to the tune of some P12.5 billion – so which is which?

This unemployment insurance may then be a roller-coaster ride. The problem that threatens our wits is the possibility that the appropriated fund may just become an early political campaign since it builds the scenario that a government is there ready to help – people, companies in distress, and sectors bitten by real-than-reel economic crunch. We have always known that dole-outs have strings attached, don’t we? In the end, it is better to have something than naught in the face of more and more companies closing shop and more and more workers getting terminated. And if the 6-month recuperation period is over – aren’t we all done?