By Elesha George
A turn for the worse in the spread of the coronavirus could be disastrous for thousands of pensioners who depend on the state to survive.
“That timeliness of the benefit payment is what will determine the quality of life for an elderly person that is perhaps afflicted by a COVID-19 infection,” said the executive director of the Antigua & Barbuda Social Security Board (ABSSB), David Matthias.
According to Matthias, 11,288 people over the age of 60 are facing uncertainty since the first confirmed case of the virus was announced here last week.
Not only do older adults have a higher risk of becoming ill with COVID-19, the timeliness of their pension payments could determine whether they have enough to eat as well as taking care of their health.
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 26.4 per cent of the people who died from COVID-19 in China were older than age 60.
In fact, people over 60 are more susceptible, while those above age 80 make up the highest death rate. That represents around nine percent (1,012) of the total pensioners in Antigua and Barbuda.
“God forbid that one does become ill and that person inadvertently would have perhaps contaminated or infected someone else, the knock-on effect would be that person would be out of work so you would have a dual whammy to social security, where income is declining but there is still an expected expense.”
The director explained that because the ABSSB draws its contributions from persons who are working, if those employed are unable to work, whether it be due to illness and/or due to closure of businesses, then it would cause a decline in the contribution income.
On average, the scheme spends close to $500,000 to $700,000 per month on short-term benefits, which are divisible between maternity and general illness.
Matthias shared that during the years where zika, chikungunya and now dengue were rampant, the scheme had “maintained its basic average” of payouts.
He said that “it would be purely guess work” to determine the proportion that is sickness however, adding that for the most part, the statutory body has not seen any significant spike in its short term benefit spend, particularly when it comes to sickness during the outbreaks of dengue and zika.
COVID-19 however is no ordinary illness and presents an unprecedented situation globally and, for now, the director said, there is no informed data to support the potential fiscal loss that COVID-19 could cost the ABSSB.
In the coming days, the ABSSB will issue communiqués outlining their COVID-19 response for the protection of staff members and maintenance of services provided to its dependent population.
The scheme will also continue to monitor any changes in the closure of businesses, which would most certainly lead to a decline in payments to the ABSSB.
“If for whatever reason businesses close – which is not an expectation in the immediate [future] – but it could very well be required if the pace of infection rises or increases. Then it would mean that we would have measures similar to other jurisdictions that are closing borders etc…at the moment that you’d know that it is going to affect earning. “If it’s affecting earning it’s therefore affecting contributions to social security and will only affect the timeliness of payments,” Matthias told Observer.