Last night we told you that the COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Program has received 62,706 applications and, up to yesterday, 7,247 applications had been processed for payment.
Approximately 7,500 additional applications are currently being processed and should be ready for approval, in stages. But for many thousands of jobless Belizeans, relief has been too slow to come.
That's why lines upon lines were formed across the country today.
Over 4000 people picked their food pantry with the usual $12.00 charge waived, but there's also a new program called "food packages" in which government pays local grocers to hand out $150 dollars worth of grocery packages to qualifying persons every two weeks.
It's a 10 million dollar social relief program to provide relief to the most needy during the COVID crisis and we found out more about it today:
Cherisse Halsall reporting
Lines have become a common site in COVID-19 Belize and this morning we saw bank lines, amazingly long credit union lines, and even Western Union lines.
But what about bread lines? If those haven't been a common site that began to change today because Food packages along with enhanced food pantries started to go out in what is looking like a massive deployment of social assistance. But what are Packages and Pantries? Minister Anthony Boots Martinez broke that down for us today.
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez
"It's a food pantry and food package, there's a difference: the food pantry is the regular food pantry for people who were on food pantry. The food packages is for people who need help and its sort of it's 6 of one and half a dozen of the other because what we did with the food pantry is to bring it on par with the food package now a food package entails ten pounds of rice, ten pounds of beans, 10 pounds of sugar, five pounds of white sugar, two chicken, two things of baking powder four bathing soap, two Clorox, two soap powder, fruits and vegetables, two condense milk."
"So who is eligible for it and who is getting it? How many people?"
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez, Minister of Human Development
"Well, right now at this point you need to call in or go on the website for the ministry of human development then they interview you. People who are not eligible are the people that will get the $150.00, public officers, including teachers policemen and so and if you are on boost or pantry and it is for everybody, PUP, UDP, no kind a P, Jehovah Witness, Catholic, Muslim, everybody, and that's why it's the Ministry doing the assessment because we need to account for it in terms of the IFI so government can get back their money."
"You must have a say you could send your people they from Port Loyola and say put ah in for me."
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez
"Let me tell you how the process works. I can't send anybody because nobody is walking physically you could call in when you call in the people they call you back and give an interview give your name and everything and they have a lot of people from Port Loyola who is not qualified because they are on pantry and boost so you just have to be real it's not me who makes the assessment the people they call you back and give you an interview, as a matter a fact we have cases where teachers apply, public officers apply, even in a guise but when we have the system tied into boost pantry, the unemployment benefit, who all is getting a pension from social security. Pensioners to a certain extent are exempted from the program so it's not, it's not, the thing is the assessment has to be right if we are to help the needy people in this country."
And while we can't swear for COVID procedures, according to this woman on a normal basis It is your area rep who secures you a pantry card.
"It's your Minister which would be your area representative established the card to your name and after that every week you have to get $12 and you purchase it at the back of this building and that's how you get the bag of stuff: the rice, beans, flour, cabbage, potatoes - you received from back there."
"So how did you hear that it was gonna be free from this point?"
"My son has a phone though which is Kenton Galvez, he said mom the 3 establishments who we usually get pantry from, those are the ones who will be giving the pantries free."
"How difficult has it been trying to secure supplies at this time?"
"Right now it's not too bad, but the way how everything is operating for a single mom who don't have a job, I would really appreciate like 5 bags."
But those eligible for Food packages are being vetted by the Ministry of Human Development in a scheme meant to help consumers and their local grocery stores.
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez
"For example if you don't get approval from the Ministry Of Human Development you can't get any package. Package no di give out like that where people are going around in a truck asking if you need help."
But people are still complaining and this morning we met a woman standing in Pantry lines who was upset about a rice shortage and her exclusion from the first free pantry.
"They are giving away pantry right back here is $12 for a pantry, but what I don't like with this government or whosoever set this rule that once you buy last week you can't no groceries this week. Miss what I buy last week done from last week. Last week is last week. If they are giving away the thing then give it away to the people. This week is free and I am supposed to get my pantry. I am not supposed to wait until next week and they already ran out of rice. So what will I get next week? I am here from 6am this morning, until I heard after 11am that you can't get, because you buy last week. That is not fair."
Up to this evening, the Ministry was still crunching the numbers on how many packages had been authorised and picked up today. Also, we note that with poetry prices reduced, the food pantry and food package programs, should use up about 12,000 chickens in the coming weeks.
Of course, questions of transparency concerning the 10-18Million dollars slated for this program invariably arise. Jules Vasquez put those questions to Boots Martinez today and we'll have that for you later in the news.