BY BERNADETTE H. CARREON
KOROR, Palau — President Surangel Whipps Jr. signed his first bill into law on Feb. 7 — Republic of Palau Public Law 11-01, which extends the COVID-19 pandemic relief package given to citizens and non-citizens for two months, or until March 31.
The so-called Coronavirus Relief One-Stop Shop or CROSS Act provides assistance to individuals and businesses that were affected by the pandemic or tourism-related businesses, especially those that closed down or reduced worker’s hours due to the COVID-related border closure. First enacted during the administration of President Tommy Remengesau Jr., the relief act has been a lifeline to Palau’s private sector for nine months.
The law extended financial support to those affected by the pandemic. Under the new law, Palau’s Congress authorized $1.5 million to cover the assistance through March as the Whipps government works on the new budget.
The law only extended Section 3 of RPPL 10-56 that covers private-sector relief measures. These include loans to help private businesses, payment deferrals such as tax, social security, health insurance payments, employment transfer, unemployment benefits, and expanded lifeline utility.
“We are indeed in difficult times and can’t do without the loans and assistance that we use to fuel our government operations and help with our daily lives,” Whipps said as he also recognized the support of the Asian Development Bank and Palau’s development partners.
Whipps also thanked the U.S for extending the CARES Act which helped nearly 1,600 Palauans who have been unemployed or have their work hours reduced/
But Whipps said the regulation of the law will have some changes, including the amount of unemployment assistance provided to foreign workers. The new regulation will cut the assistance given to foreign workers by 50% and requires them to return to work with their employers to prepare for the re-opening of the tourism industry.
The law also gives retroactive pay for those that choose to go back to work from Feb. 1 to the date the law came into effect.
Finance Minister Kaleb Udui through the regulations will determine the eligibility of companies and individuals who are beneficiaries of the assistance.
He said the money appropriated is enough to cover those affected until a new budget is passed.
Udui said to ensure that employees remain insured under the National Health Insurance., the government will pay individual employee Social Security benefits and health insurance premiums. mbj