By Macon Araneta
FilAm Star Correspondent
Almost half a million more seniors will start getting a PHP 6,000 yearly pension from the government effective this year, after Congress increased the social pension budget by PHP 3 billion for indigent 60-year-olds and above said Sen. Ralph Recto.
As this developed, Recto called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to cut the red tape and speed up all the required paper work.
He said those qualified to receive the PHP 500 monthly stipend under the law are senior citizens who are frail, sickly, or have disabilities; are not receiving pension from Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), or Veterans Pension; and do not have a permanent source of income.
He said the budget for the government’s social pension program for indigent senior citizens jumped to PHP 8.7 billion this year from PHP 5.7 billion last year, thereby increasing the number of recipients from 939,609 to 1,382,941.
Recto also called to hasten the enrolment of 443,332 new beneficiaries, saying that “such disbursement of funds must be exempt from underspending.”
The distribution of a PHP 500 monthly pension – or P6,000 yearly – to indigent seniors is made pursuant to Republic Act No. 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.
Recto chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Finance which has oversight on the budget of the DSWD, which runs the program.
Malacañang originally sought PHP 7.5 billion for the program for 2016 but after Recto’s review, and lobbying by seniors’ rights advocacy groups, it emerged that at that funding level at least 200,000 seniors will not be covered.
Upon Recto’s motion, the funding was increased by PHP 1.2 billion to PHP 8.7 billion, the amount authorized in the General Appropriations Act for 2016.
It will be recalled that during the debates for the 2015 budget, Recto also succeeded in increasing the program’s budget by PHP 1 billion, to PHP 5.7 billion, which allowed DSWD to take in almost a million beneficiaries.
Recto said the DSWD must expedite the identification of the new beneficiaries in order to facilitate the release of checks to indigent senior citizens at the soonest time possible.
The pension is distributed every quarter through cash payment by DSWD Field Offices or city or municipal social welfare and development offices.
While the law granting monthly pension to “economically disadvantaged” seniors was passed six years ago, “it is only this year that it will be fully complied with,” Recto said.
Due to limited financial resources, only 80-year-olds and above were enlisted in previous years. The cut-off age was later lowered to 77, until it was brought down to 65 last year.
“By increasing the budget for this program, we are embracing the idea that all indigent seniors 60 years old and above must be covered by the proposed allocation. The policy is No Senior Left Behind,” Recto said.