PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago government on Monday said it expects to lose revenue in excess of nine billion dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) as a result of the dramatic decline in oil and gas prices on the global market. Imbert said that the government has processed and authorized the first batch of 1,000 salary relief grants and that if all goes according to plan, these grants will be wired to recipients on Tuesday and arrive in their bank accounts by Wednesday. “To date, over TT$65 million has already been spent or committed by that Ministry on Covid-19 relief measures. These measures include over TT$25 million worth of food cards distributed to Members of Parliament to assist parents for a 3-month period, whose children would normally receive meals through the school feeding programme, and for other needy persons in their constituencies.” “Accordingly, our fiscal deficit for fiscal 2020, which was originally estimated at TT$5.3 billion, is now expected to expand to TT$15.5 billion, TT$10.2 billion higher than was envisaged in our financial year 2020 budget.” “Indeed, the April 2020 World Economic Outlook envisages a partial recovery in 2021. However, there is tremendous uncertainty around the outlook, given that it can get worse,” he said, adding “we cannot allow this pandemic to destroy our economy and, therefore, while a reallocation of priority areas for spending is inevitable, it is our intention to maintain our original expenditure target of TT$53 billion for fiscal 2020”. “Further, we have taken steps to allow for emergency drawdowns from the Heritage and Stabilization Fund (HSF), not exceeding US$1.5 billion in any given year, for budgetary support in exceptional circumstances, such as the current pandemic,” he said thanking legislators for “unanimously supporting the amendments to the legislation governing the HSF to allow for such drawdowns. But he said notwithstanding the forecasts of …oil in the US$30 range and gas in the US$2.10 range for the rest of 2020, therefore, our latest revenue projections, are based on conservative prices of US$25 per barrel for oil for the rest of the year and US$1.80 per MMBTU for natural gas. Imbert said that calculating this revised deficit, the Keith Rowley government has taken note of the fact that the collapse of the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil to one US cent per barrel last week is having an adverse effect on other oil prices. In addition, it is also pursuing a further US$500 million for budgetary support from other external sources. “For example, Brent oil, which is closer in price to our local crude than WTI, has dropped to US$20. Such low prices were previously undreamt of. “ He said more than 75,000 households, comprising over 200,000 nationals, have benefitted from additional social support measures implemented by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services so far. He said that the government has a targeted and sizable financial support programme for an initial period of three months at a cost of approximately TT$4.5 billion is providing a safety net for the most vulnerable households and businesses as a result of the pandemic.. “We have also raised TT$500 million locally to pay for the increased demands for goods and services for the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) and to settle aged trade payables in the health sector. In terms of cash flow for the Ministry of Health and the RHAs, in the face of this pandemic, therefore, we are on a strong footing,” Imbert said. In his lengthy statement to the Parliament, the Finance Minister said substantial budgetary resources are being directed to the health sector, and this is aided by external financial support. To deal with the coronavirus. Finance Minister Colm Imbert in a statement to Parliament said in 2020, the government’s objective is to keep the economy moving, stimulate economic activity, provide financial assistance to individuals and businesses, and keep as many people employed as is possible including all workers in the public sector as the twin-island republic also deals with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19). “As a country, we have long recognized the importance of building up a foreign exchange buffer through our HSF which now has a Net Asset value of US$6.1 billion, US$500 million more than when we assumed office in September 2015, despite withdrawals totalling US$600 million since then and the collapse of the US stock market last month,” Imbert said. He said these include US$20 million from the World Bank, US$130 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and US$150 million from the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF). Imbert said for that reason, the government has been in discussions with certain multilateral institutions and development banks with a view to ensuring that in addition to domestic financial resources, appropriate external financing is available to meet the requirements of the expanded fiscal deficit in 2020 and 2021. Imbert told legislators that there is no question that fiscal 2020 will be “exceptionally difficult even if the pandemic fades in the second half of the year thus allowing for a gradual lifting of the containment measures and a re-opening of the economy. He said this will cost TT$30 million and that a further TT$10 million per month for food support will be given to the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government for distribution within the 14 Municipal Regions in Trinidad. He told legislators that the government’s “comprehensive social, financial and economic support package of measures” since the virus was first detected here, “has expanded our expenditure envelope, in the context of a serious erosion of our tax base caused by the collapse of oil prices. “This results in a projected loss of revenue in fiscal 2020 of TT$9.2 billion, to which must be added another net one billion TT dollars in extraordinary expenditure. Within that TT$9.2 billion revenue loss, we estimate a loss of TT$3.8 billion in taxes on Incomes and Profits, and losses of TT$750 million in Business Levy and Green Fund Levy, TT$600 million in taxes on Goods and Services and International Trade, TT$2.5 billion in Royalties and Production Sharing and TT$1.2 billion in Profits from State Enterprises, among other areas. “ He said in addition, addition, the government is currently processing applications for Income Support Grants of up to TT$1,500 per month per household, for persons who are outside of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Inland Revenue systems who have lost their jobs or incomes as a result of Covid-19 measures, i.e. persons in the informal economy. Rent Relief Grants of up to TT$2,400 per month are also available. “It is expected that these social support measures will cost up to TT$200 million for the period up to July 2020,” Imbert said, adding that grants totaling TT$10 million per month for the next three months, will be given to religious bodies in proportion to the size of their congregations for them to distribute food to the poor and needy in accordance with their existing procedures and programmes. Imbert said that existing food card recipients have also had their food cards topped up with additional funds at a cost of over TT$17 million and over 30,000 persons in receipt of public assistance or disability assistance have been given additional assistance at a cost of over TT$22 million. Food hampers have also been sent to all Regional Corporations.” “We have created a health system parallel to the traditional health facilities to specifically respond to the pandemic,” he said, noting that in terms of international financial assistance to address the unprecedented financial demands of Covid-19, the government is sourcing US$300 million from various multilateral agencies. “Thereafter, we expect to be able to increase our capacity to be able to process and deliver up to 10,000 new grants per week, as we speed up and streamline the process. These grants are eventually expected to reach as many as 100,000 persons at a cost of TT$400 million,” the Finance Minister said. CMC
The Kangaroos are training at St George’s Park National Football Centre, the home of the England Football Association, which opened in 2012 and boasts state-of-the-art facilities.”They’ve got 14 fields here, the recovery centre’s unbelievable, the gym’s crazy. It’s just – I’ve never been a part of anything that looks this amazing,” Woods said.”So we’ve got some really good resources to use, so we’ve got to back it up and play some good footy now.”It’s just crazy being here. The things we’re surrounded by, it’s unbelievable.”Woods missed Australia’s 26-6 win over New Zealand in Perth earlier this month due to his wedding, but is expected to be recalled when the Four Nations begins this weekend.The Wests Tigers skipper and NSW Origin star may have five Tests to his name so far but still admits he is in awe of some of the talent in the Kangaroos squad.”You look around and you see the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis, Matty Scott – it’s just crazy. You’re playing the best of the best,” he said.”So you sit there and pinch yourself some days but then again you’re thinking, ‘well I’ve got a job to do here as well’.”So I’m really looking forward to each game, and can’t wait to play with the boys.”Australia takes on Scotland on Saturday morning (6am AEDT) to kick off the 2016 Four Nations, with England facing New Zealand in the early hours of Sunday morning, Australian time.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday fine-tuned his budget proposal for next year with a plan that would cut welfare programs, siphon $1.3 billion of public transit money for other state programs, and sell off a quasi-public agency that guarantees student loans. The Republican governor’s plan would leave the state with a $1.4 billion “net operating deficit” for the fiscal year starting in July. But Schwarzenegger said he was proud of paring a $16.5 billion deficit he inherited in 2003, without raising taxes. The release of the governor’s revised budget triggers the annual money debate in the Legislature, and Democrats were quick to criticize Schwarzenegger’s welfare proposal. It calls for denying cost-of-living increases to welfare recipients and halting payments to poor families with children after five years. Democrats said it targets those who can least afford it: poor families, seniors and the disabled. “It looks like, once again, the most vulnerable Californians are in the free-fire zone,” said Senate President pro tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, referring to proposed social service cuts. Schwarzenegger called the plan a matter of necessity. “I think that a lot of people deserve this money,” Schwarzenegger said, “but I have an obligation, which is I promised the people of California that I will bring down the structural deficit to zero, and that we will be fiscally responsible.” Schwarzenegger relies on several one-time fixes to help balance the budget. He wants to shift $600 million from a tobacco settlement reserve fund into the state’s general fund. And he would generate nearly $1 billion by auctioning off the state’s EdFund program, which guarantees student loans. The governor also reiterated his interest in privatizing the state lottery, portraying it as a pain-free way to generate billions of extra dollars to pay off debt and finance state programs. “We’ve got to find new ways of creating the revenues,” Schwarzenegger said. Overall, general fund spending would grow from $102.3 billion in the current fiscal year to $103.8 billion next year, a 1.5 percent increase. Reflecting his confidence in California’s economy despite a cooling housing market, the governor’s finance team expects tax revenues to surge 5.8 percent – from $95.7 billion to $101.3 billion. Among Schwarzenegger’s proposals to find more than $5 billion to balance the budget, his changes to welfare could be the most contentious. The governor wants to end state welfare payments to families with children after five years, and to deny cost-of-living increases to recipients of both CalWorks and a cash assistance program for the elderly, blind and disabled. Raquel Cardenas, 30, said she receives a monthly welfare check of $650, plus $130 in food stamps, to support her 2- and 12-year-old daughters. Cardenas, who is divorced and rents a room in San Francisco, said she was trained as a graphic designer but can’t work because child care for her younger daughter is too expensive. The governor’s welfare plan will hurt, Cardenas said. “Rent goes up, the cost of milk goes up, everything goes up except for” help from the state, she said. Some social services fared better. Because of last winter’s crop freeze, local food banks and a state agency that stores food for emergencies will see their total grant nearly double, to about $9 million. And health advocates said there was little to praise or complain about in the state’s health and human services budget, but they did approve of efforts to enroll more children in the Healthy Families subsidized health insurance program. Transportation also looks to be a hot topic as lawmakers try to pass a budget by the June 15 Constitutional deadline. Schwarzenegger wants to move $1.3 billion in gas tax funds – which have surged recently because of spiking prices at the pump – into the general fund. Public transit advocates say the proposal will force public transit agencies to raise bus and rail fares and cut service. Democrats are also upset that the governor wants to take hundreds of millions of dollars extra to make early payments on loans taken out during the dot-com bust. Critics say the idea is like making an extra mortgage payment while ignoring the electricity bill. Republicans, however, welcomed the move. The GOP wields more power over the budget than just about any other issue, because some Republican votes are needed to secure a required two-thirds vote. “We have to bring expenditures in line with revenues, and we need to do it now,” said Assemblyman Roger Neillo, R-Sacramento, the ranking Republican on the lower house’s budget committee. “As painful as it is now, it will be even more painful if we delay it to subsequent years.” Republicans, however, weren’t so pleased with another Schwarzenegger proposal that would eliminate the state’s contribution – $40 million – toward a farmland preservation program known as the Williamson Act. Many of the state’s rural areas are represented by Republicans. Critics say the state subsidy is misguided, but the four-decade-old program remains popular with many farmers and environmentalists for reducing sprawl. While many social services suffered, some areas of the budget still see increases – including spending on the governor’s own office. Schwarzenegger proposes a 5 percent increase to pay for upgrading technology. He is expected to offer raises to his 185-member staff later this year, but those would come from existing budgets. Even though the $1 million increase on governor’s office spending is a tiny speck in the whole budget picture, it rankles some lawmakers, who could ax it from the budget. There’s no cost-of-living increase in grants to the aged, blind and disabled, noted Assembly Budget Committee Chairman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, “but he says his office needs one. I think that would doom his proposal.” One powerful constituency – public schools – seemed to do particularly well under Schwarzenegger’s budget plan. Per-pupil spending would increase more than $300, to $11,562. But there was other good news – from funding to expand nutrition programs to a one-time $100 million block grant for school safety programs. 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