The report recommends examining the use of the framework created for the Financial Assistance Programme after Hurricanes Irma and Maria to provide temporary, expanded income support which would cost around USD 12 million at the lower end; exploring the provision of liquidity for small firms to preserve livelihoods through deficit financing or government guarantees; an extension to the period for work permit holders to find new jobs and the implementation of rapid work permit transfers to mitigate outward migration. Longer term, the report proposes a rigorous assessment of the current level of poverty to inform the design and implementation of an expanded, gender-responsive Public Assistance Programme and the development of a permanent unemployment benefit fund.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Saint Lucian economy was projected to continue along its growth path that has been ongoing since 2016. The economy was forecasted to grow at around 3.2% in 2020, building on the 4 previous years of growth. This growth was to be driven by the largest economic sector, services, more specifically the tourism industry, which is broadly responsible for 65% of output. The tourism sector accounted for 50.8% of total employment in 2018.
To mitigate the possible impacts of the pandemic, Saint Lucia used a three phased approach: health, social stabilisation and economic recovery, detailed in the body of the report. It's social and economic relief programme was launched on April 29th and included temporary income support of between $500 and $1,500 per month through the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) for contributors and non-NIC contributors for an initial period of three months and set to expire in July; a moratorium on bank mortgage repayments (principal and interest) for both individuals and entities for a period of six months through September; suspension of all rent payments for six months for those occupying government-owned commercial units; provision of direct support to local indigenous farmers to sustain their livelihoods, among others.
As the potential for a global second wave increases and the return of tourism is likely to be protracted, this report makes a series of additional recommendations to support the island’s social and economic recovery, including the expansion of the agricultural extension services to provide agricultural inputs to encourage self-production; the implementation and targeted delivery of a “family food basket” to provide support to the most vulnerable families; the expansion of the Disability Benefit to include adults and victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence; a strategy to designate firms processing remittances as essential services; and the expansion of home-schooling programmes to help address the gap in learning opportunities as academic recovery is an important imperative.