Limited budget hampers HCMC's efforts to support poor amid Covid

By Le Tuyet   August 21, 2021 | 05:00 am PT
Limited budget hampers HCMC's efforts to support poor amid Covid
People receive free meals through tubes to ensure social distancing at the Tan Sa Chau Church in HCMC's Tan Binh District, June 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
HCMC recently requested VND28 trillion ($1.2 billion) from the government to support vulnerable populations amid the pandemic as its budget slowly dwindles.

For the past two months, Vo Van Ut, 35, has had no income and had to live off goods provided by his neighborhood and philanthropists. The man, who lives in an apartment in Thanh Xuan Ward, District 12, lost his job as a delivery driver, who had no employment contract and earned nearly VND5 million ($219.41) a month.

"I wish I could receive VND1.5 million to pay rent and raise my child," Ut said, adding while his landlord had already cut his rent by half, he still doesn't have enough money. His nine-year-old daughter had to be sent to his sister for a while so she could be properly cared for.

About a week prior, his neighborhood began handing out support money, but Ut's name was not on the list. His neighbors then decided to split among themselves and share the money among those who didn't get any. Ut got VND200,000.

Next to Ut lives Huynh Tiet Hanh, who works at a local hotel. She said she had received VND3 million in total in support money during the pandemic. The entire apartment complex has 14 informal workers as tenants, but only eight received support, she added.

Huynh Van Hai, the head of a sub-quarter in Thanh Xuan Ward, said there are around 1,200 people living in apartments in the area, most of them informal workers. Back in June, Hai said he had visited the apartments to make a list of workers to receive support money, but only some were approved by ward authorities.

Vo Thi Chinh, deputy chairwoman of District 12 People's Committee, said the district hosts around 64,000 informal workers living in poor areas, but that it was only able to distribute support packages to 11,500 people amid a lack of resources.

In Binh Thanh District, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Loan, head of the district's labor department, said there are over 50,000 poor workers living in apartment complexes and locked down areas in the district, but they could only provide support packages to over 10,300. As such, the district has requested city authorities to look for other sources to support citizens.

Vo Van Ut prepares a meal in his apartment in HCMCs District 12, having yet to receive his Covid-19 support money. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Vo Van Ut prepares a meal in his apartment in HCMC's District 12, having yet to receive the Covid-19 support money he registered for. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

The situation is hardly unique to District 12 and Binh Thanh: many other districts are facing difficulties to support its residents as the city budget struggles to encompass everyone in need.

Thu Duc City has around 103,000 families who need financial support this time around, yet there's only enough money to be distributed to over 23,000 families. Go Vap District has over 54,000 families in need, yet there's only enough money for 12,500.

In reality, as soon as the pandemic hit, Ho Chi Minh City deployed plans to support its residents. Besides a nationwide support package worth VND26 trillion from the central government, HCMC itself has also dished out two support packages worth around VND1.8 trillion, which were distributed starting July.

On Aug. 17, HCMC requested VND28 trillion and 142,200 tons of rice from the government to help the people. It said over 4.7 million people from around 1.5 million families are being pushed to the brink due to impacts of the pandemic.

The coronavirus, coupled with extended social distancing orders, have also negatively affected HCMC's socio-economic development. Its revenue has been decreasing since May and is unlikely to meet the target posed by the government this year. The poor, running out of resources to keep themselves afloat, have departed the city for their hometowns, often spontaneously on their motorbikes.

If HCMC is to receive government aid, both money and food would go to its 4.7 million residents in dire circumstances. Each resident is expected to get VND50,000 a day for meals, along with 15 kilos of rice. Another VND1.5 million would be given to each family each month to cover rent for two months, the city stated.

Tran Hoang Ngan, director of the HCMC Institute for Development Studies, said the city had to spend nearly its entire budget on investment and development due to its low budget retention rate at around 18 percent. The coronavirus crisis has added to the burden, which drains even more of its financial resources and explains the difficulty in distributing support packages to those in need.

Le Duy Binh, CEO of Economica Vietnam, said the support package proposed by HCMC might seem steep but, considering the amount the southern metropolis contributes to the national budget every year, at over VND300 trillion on average, could help protect the city's workforce and rekindle production.

"Workers in HCMC directly contribute to the national budget, so they deserve to be protected and have their welfare ensured," said Binh.

Recently, the government agreed to a proposal by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to provide over 130,000 tons of rice from the national reserve to 24 localities amid the pandemic. HCMC would get over 71,000 tons.

The southern city, epicenter of Vietnam's fourth coronavirus wave since late April, has recorded 171,801 local Covid-19 cases in the new outbreak so far.

It has undergone a series of social distancing orders, with the latest being extended until September 15. People are also banned from going out between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., except for medical emergencies, etc.

The government wants HCMC to bring the coronavirus situation under control by Sept. 15.

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