Starting this month, displaced tourism workers receiving government’s $1,000 stipend will receive an additional $500, Finance Minister Roy McTaggart announced Thursday.
McTaggart, addressing the COVID-19 briefing, said Cabinet had approved the increase for the temporary relief initiative.
The stipend programme, which started last year, is aimed at assisting unemployed Caymanians in the tourism industry who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The monthly assistance has now been extended through June this year; to date, 2,898 tourism workers are benefiting from the stipend.
“This increase to the stipend is another step in helping our tourism workers to weather the economic and financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” McTaggart said at the briefing.
The finance minister said the increased stipend will cost government an extra $1.5 million per month which translates to $7.5 million through June.
The increase, he said, was something that had been under review by government.
“Whilst our local economy continues to perform well there are many in our tourism sector who are still suffering due to our borders being closed. Some time ago government had determined if our finances allowed us, we would look again at the assistance that could be provided to those displaced tourism workers,” he said.
McTaggart, who shared government’s preliminary financial figures for 2020, said the country’s better-than-expected performance last year only incurred an expected deficit of from $50 million to $75 million. However, initial expectations placed the deficit at $168 million, so the new estimate “leaves us in a much better position”, he said.
“What also leaves us in a good position is that at the end of 2020 we had some $449 million in the bank. This is the result of the work done over the last two terms to secure the country’s finances, and it is this buffer that has given us the space to keep health and safety at the forefront of our decisions rather than money,” McTaggart added.
He said that $32.4 million was spent last year on financial support, including the stipend programme, for families and businesses affected by the pandemic.
Since March 2020, government has spent $15.6 million on tourism stipends to help affected workers. Last month workers who had not yet signed up to receive the stipend were urged to register for financial assistance.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, responding to questions about means-testing applicants for the stipend, explained that the increase would be applied to those who were already part of the programme.
Acknowledging that people cannot really live on $1,000 or $1,500 a month in Cayman, “although some do or have to”, McLaughlin added, “We always understood that this was an assistance to people, not a substitute to them getting a regular salary.”
McLaughlin also said government is not going to penalise anyone by taking away the stipend from those who may have found employment.