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Jakarta Post

Jakarta’s poor at risk as city drags feet on COVID-19 social assistance

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, April 5, 2020   /   08:17 am
Jakarta’s poor at risk as city drags feet on COVID-19 social assistance Residents practice physical distancing as they sunbathe on the sidewalks of Jakarta's Senayan area on Thursday, April 2. Many people believe that sunbathing will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading, even though there is little evidence to support it. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

The Jakarta administration’s sluggish delivery of crucial social assistance funds in response to the COVID-19 outbreak is putting the city’s underprivileged citizens at a higher risk of slipping into destitution the longer the crisis stretches on.

On March 20, five days after the city started closing down schools and tourist destinations to curb the spread of the disease, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said that the administration would be disbursing social assistance to 1.1 million registered beneficiaries.

At the time, Jakarta officials were still formulating the amount and method of disbursement.

Fast forward to Thursday, at a teleconference meeting with Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, Anies announced that the number of beneficiaries had jumped to 3.7 million people due to a greater share of the population, comprising poor and vulnerable groups, dropping deeper into poverty.

“They [people in the vulnerable bracket] still earn a living, but once the economy contracts, they will have lost all of their income,” he said, pointing to street vendors and ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers as prime examples of this group.

Read also: 70 million informal workers most vulnerable during pandemic

The governor has revealed that beneficiaries would be receiving Rp 1 million (US$60.45) in subsidies per household per month for April and May. The Social Affairs Ministry, which is set to allocate Rp. 4.57 trillion to the social assistance program, would be footing a larger chunk of each subsidy of Rp 880,000, while the remainder will be taken out of the city’s budget.

But with an additional 2.6 million recipients added to the tally, Anies said the administration would require approximately 10 days to complete their credentials – another massive undertaking.

“Not all of them have a Jakarta identity card. Some are not even registered as beneficiaries of the social assistance program,” he said, adding that the administration would use data it had been collecting through the One Jakarta program, which employs the Family Welfare Movement (PKK) to collect household data.

Meanwhile, the Social Affairs Ministry’s director general for social empowerment, Pepen Nazarudin, said the ministry was still waiting on the details of the beneficiaries.

“The Jakarta administration is to inform us about the data before we will review it. We’ll convey the data to the President as soon as possible,” Pepen told The Jakarta Post.

The disbursement mechanism remains unclear but Pepen insisted it would abide by the physical distancing rules mandated by the government, hopeful of avoiding the rush and the long lines that often come with the distribution of staple food packages.

Flora Aninditya, a researcher at the University of Indonesia Economics and Business School’s Demographics Institute, emphasized that while speeding up the collection of data was important, the safety of the officers should be of utmost importance during an outbreak.

“There should be a protocol to ensure the safety of data collectors who go out into the field, while operational incentives like covered transportation costs or phone credits should also be provided,” she told the Post on Friday.

Read also: Indonesia’s strategy to combat COVID-19: What we know so far

Separately, Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) chairwoman Asfinawati deplored the Jakarta government’s “late” decision to set up a social safety net one month after the first COVID-19 infection was confirmed in the capital.

She claimed that many people had lost income and could potentially fall deeper into poverty due to the government’s failure to identify risks and prepare mitigation strategies before measures to curb the spread of the virus were put in place.

“The risks should have been identified well in advance,” she said.

Jakarta RT/RW Forum chairman Muhammad Irsyad said he was worried that low-income groups would no longer heed the government’s call to stay indoors as uncertainty over their basic needs are thrown into doubt.

“Though I’ve seen residents obey the call [for physical distancing] for the past two weeks, they will eventually want to go out to find ways [to make money],” he said. “But residents may feel more at ease if they know it [social assistance] is available.”

The severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the capital has triggered an outpouring of solidarity from individuals, community organizations, companies and government agencies that have gathered donations for the poor and provided protective gear for medical workers on the frontline.

Meanwhile, communities in Jakarta’s slums have reportedly begun producing their own antiseptic liquid for local use.

“These are truly very good initiatives to have as a nation, but they could also be seen as a corrective measure to make up for the failure of the state,” Asfinawati said.

Wahyudi Djafar, deputy director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), said that collective efforts to handle the outbreak should always be led by the government.

“The government should have been able to produce a map for people to track, for instance, where there is a shortage of protective equipment, so donations and other resources can be equally distributed,” he said.

Jakarta, currently the country’s epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, had reported 958 confirmed cases and 96 deaths as of Friday afternoon.