HCMC informal workers anxiously wait for Covid relief from government

By Le Tuyet, Huu Cong   August 14, 2021 | 04:35 pm PT
Many informal workers in HCMC are longing for relief from the government since lengthy lockdowns have taken away their livelihoods and what little savings they had.

Huynh Duong Trong, 22, of HCMC’s Hoc Mon District is the sole breadwinner for a family of five that includes his mother, wife and two young children.

He used to earn VND200,000 ($8.74) a day on average by driving a motorbike taxi. But after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and the city imposed stricter preventive measures, he got fewer and fewer customers and sometimes none at all.

At the beginning of July his neighborhood was locked down for some time after a person was found infected, forcing him to stay at home.

Huynh Duong Trongs family of five faces financial harships when he has stopped driving a motorbike taxi during the latest outbreak. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Huynh Duong Trong's family of five faces financial harship after he stopped driving a motorbike taxi amid the latest Covid-19 outbreak. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Without any savings to fall back on, Trong's family began to suffer when he stopped working. Due to her poor diet, his wife does not have enough breast milk for their infant daughter. To buy milk and diapers for his children and pay the rent, he borrowed VND5 million from someone at an interest of VND500,000 a month.

One day he got a called from someone from Dak Lak Province, his hometown. The person asked him why he borrowed money when HCMC provides each informal worker with financial relief of VND1.5 million.

"I have heard that motorbike taxi drivers are provided support, but so far I have not received it," Trong said while washing some spinach that was donated by some kind people for lunch.

Tran Thi Ngoc Nhan, 51, a woman who rents a house in nearby District 12, has also been waiting for the support money.

She used to sell lottery tickets, but since she has been suffering from varicose veins for a year and had difficulty walking, she washed dishes at a restaurant near her home for daily wages.

When Covid broke out and HCMC started to enforce tougher social distancing measures, the restaurant closed down and she lost her livelihood.

Three weeks ago the chief of the neighborhood put her in a list of people in need of the VND1.5 million relief, but she has yet to get it.

She used the last of her savings, some VND1.4 million, to pay her rent last month. Fortunately, the landlord agreed to cut the rent by 30 percent, and so she had a little money left over. But she does not dare to it. The single mother and her son depend on food donated by benefactors.

"As of today I only have VND37,000 left," she said.

She and two other families plan to ask their landlord to delay their rents.

For the past two months, Tran Thi Ngoc Nhan and her son have been relying on donated food packages to get by. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

For the last two months Tran Thi Ngoc Nhan and her son have been relying on donors for food. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

During the fourth wave of Covid HCMC announced two financial relief packages to support people in difficulties.

The first, worth VND886 billion ($36.5 million), was disbursed at the end of June, with 311,000 informal workers getting VND1.5 million each.

The second was recently approved and is worth VND905 billion ($39.4 million) and the city plans to provide 344,000 informal workers with VND1.5 million.

Lam Quan Minh Vuong, chairman of the People's Committee of Dong Hung Thuan Ward, where Nhan lives, said the names of all informal workers in the area are listed by neighborhood chiefs and sent to ward authorities.

But he warned that not every person in the list would be approved finally for the relief since they must be in the list of special occupational groups listed by the city.

The total number of people is also a factor, and those who do not receive the money this time would have to wait until next time, he said.

Vo Thi Chinh, vice chairwoman of the District 12 People's Committee, said procedures for inclusion in the list of beneficiaries are easy to complete, and it does not matter if someone is a permanent or temporary resident: As long as they live in the area and face difficult circumstances, they would receive the relief.

In the first round, the district had listed more than 26,000 eligible people, and disbursed VND39 billion.

"In the area, there are also many self-employed workers who face difficulties, but have not been supported because their jobs are not in the list of six that are eligible for the financial support."

She said in such cases the district would consider listing them as poor laborers living in dormitories and locked-down areas so that they qualify for the financial aid this time.

People affected by Covid-19 receive charity meals in HCMCs District 1, June 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

People affected by Covid-19 receive charity meals in HCMC's District 1, June 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Le Minh Tan, director of the city Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said at a recent press conference that the first support package has been completely disbursed.

In the second, currently being disbursed, the city has expanded the list to cover more poor and disadvantaged people who need help.

Thus, in addition to 344,000 informal workers, there are also 90,500 poor and near-poor households who will receive VND1.5 million.

Another 170,000 poor people living in locked-down areas will also benefit. The city hopes to hand over the money to everyone before August 15.

Tan too said the support is for people facing difficulties regardless of whether they have permanent or temporary residence in the city.

The money will be transferred to a bank account or handed over in cash if they do not have an account.

Poor and near-poor households and others living in difficult conditions with three or more members will be given priority.

Recently the city also set up a support center for receiving donations and distributing to people affected by the pandemic.

Four months into the fourth wave, the most challenging yet, Covid has spread to 62 of the country’s 63 provinces and cities.

After more than two months of various levels of lockdowns, HCMC, the epicenter, has recorded nearly 145,000 infections, the highest number in the country.

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