By PressOne.PH Business

Photo shows cash transfer beneficiaries in the Bicol Region. FROM DSWD FIELD OFFICE REGION 5 WEBSITE

The Duterte administration is increasing its budget for the final year of unconditional cash transfers (UCT) under the controversial tax reform law in 2017, but nearly two years on, the government is still scrambling to reach out to uncovered beneficiaries.
 
Under the proposed 2020 outlay submitted to Congress on Tuesday, the government will spend P37.2 billion for the UCT, up 2 percent from this year’s P36.5 billion.
 
UCT was a component of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) that mandated the government to give monthly subsidies to 10 million poorest Filipino households, but as of April this year, full coverage has yet to be attained, leaving thousands of Filipinos shortchanged for the promised cash support.
 
As of April, Finance department data showed that only 9.24 million households, including indigent senior citizens, were getting assistance from the government, while the rest were still being validated.
 
The list included more than 4 million households under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program, which grants a separate monthly stipend of up to P1,200 each family of four.
 
UCT subsidy started at P200 each family in 2018, before increasing to P300 this year and the next. Instead of giving the assistance each month however, the government opts to grant it as a full-year lump sum of P3,600 each family.
 
UCT is among the safety nets included under TRAIN, meant to cushion the impact of rising consumer prices resulting from the law’s imposition of higher oil levies. 
 
Apart from cash transfers, the government also gives out Pantawid Pasada fuel cards to public utility vehicle drivers and operators, the distribution of which had also been slow and full coverage yet to be achieved.
 
The Transportation department said that as of Aug. 5, it had distributed 111,204 fuel cards to PUV drivers and operators, accounting for just 64.3 percent of 173,000 targeted beneficiaries.
 
Fuel cards were loaded P5,000 each in 2018, which were increased to more than P20,000 this year. 
 
While TRAIN reduced personal income tax rates and helped increase individual take-home pay, higher oil levies to offset revenue losses from lower personal taxes were heavily criticized for partly stoking inflation last year.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, hit a near-decade high of 5.2 percent in 2018 due to higher rice and oil prices, worsened by additional fuel levies imposed by TRAIN.

 
Consumer price hikes have since slowed down, partly due to high base effects, hitting 2.4 percent in July. 
 
For the first seven months, inflation settled at 3.3 percent, running within the central bank’s 2 to 4 percent target this year.