The family of Thang is one of the poorest households in Lang village (Phong Tho district, Lai Chau province). They rely on selling bananas and potatoes just to get by.

The poverty-stricken household found themselves in a dire situation once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown ensued. Under such circumstances, his family lost their main income.

In those difficult days, a support payment worth 4.7 million VND from the government relief package helped Thang and his family got through that tough time.

Unprecedented immediate relief package

2020 was a difficult year as COVID-19 impacted both the lives of Vietnamese people and the socio-economic development of Vietnam. According to the General Statistics Office, as of September, 2020, Vietnam had over 31.8 million labourers, aged 15 and above, that had been negatively affected by COVID-19 including reduced working hours, reduced income and job loss.

A report, called “Citizens’ Opinions of and Experiences with Government Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic in Vietnam” by Mekong Development Research Institute (MDRI) and UNDP, showed that the service sector (such as traditional retail services and household services) had been the most affected by the pandemic.

Unskilled workers, those working in informal sector and workers who live just above the poverty line were the hardest hit. 24 percent of those surveyed said they had lost their jobs and 65 percent said their income had been reduced.
62 trillion VND support package – a timely helping hand for those in need hinh anh 1Poor and near-poor households receiving support (Photo: VNA)

To support those in disadvantaged circumstances due to the pandemic, the Government issued Resolution 42/NQ-CP, stipulating a certain level of support for each specific group of people in order to alleviate the difficulties caused by COVID-19, with an estimated total amount of support made available through the package of up to 62,000 billion VND (around 2.69 billion USD).

This was an unprecedented relief package and its urgent deployment was also implemented by all levels and sectors so that support could reach the people who needed it most in a timely manner. It took only one month from the time of formulation of policies to the start of payment. Perhaps no other policy has been implemented so quickly and as urgently as this one, which showed the Government's determination to support people who face difficulties due to COVID-19.

The policy covered almost all the most impacted groups such as households below and just above the poverty line, workers who have lost their jobs, businesses that cannot pay wages, and even people with meritorious services to the revolution and beneficiaries of social welfare.

Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Resident Representative in Vietnam, said the Government’s swift and effective actions combined with the people’s trust and compliance are the keys to Vietnam’s success in fighting the pandemic.

The survey of MDRI and UNDP showed that people had positively responded to the support package.

High expectation, limited implementation

Experts said the support package is a meaningful and important initiative to support those who need it the most. In reality, the implementation of the package met with roadblocks and obstacles.

As soon as information about the support package was announced, people were both happy and anxious as everyone hoped to get some level of support. Upon implementation, the strict eligibility requirements made it difficult for some people and businesses to receive aid, leading to disappointment.

While the support for poor and near-poor households, people with meritorious services to the revolution and beneficiaries of social welfare had been delivered quite quickly, the support for other target groups had been very limited. By the end of 2020, only slightly more than 50 percent of the package’s budget had been disbursed.
62 trillion VND support package – a timely helping hand for those in need hinh anh 2People filling out forms to receive support from the relief package (Photo: VNA)

The difficulties for many businesses in accessing support funding had required the Government to promptly remove the obstacles. The Government issued a decree amending and supplementing the loan conditions for businesses in October. According to Resolution No. 154/NQ-CP amending and supplementing Resolution No. 42/NQ-CP, the conditions for implementing the 62,000-billion-VND support package were revised in order to ease the conditions and expand the implementation of salary-loan support until the end of 2020.

Immediately after Resolution No. 154 was issued, 185 businesses were able to borrow more than 27.7 billion VND to pay severance packages to 7,245 employees. However, this number was still quite modest compared to the scheduled loan amount of 16,000 billion VND to help around 3 million workers.

Regarding policies that support businesses, Chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vu Tien Loc said that there is a big gap between policy design and implementation. The proposed policy is suitable but in reality, the implementation is lacking leading to limited results.

Completion of emergency support package

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many households to fall into poverty due to debt, with little-to-no income or savings. Furthermore, as the specific requirements for receiving support only focused on a certain number of professions, those who work as freelancers without labour contracts did not receive support.
62 trillion VND support package – a timely helping hand for those in need hinh anh 3Social distancing and the decline in the import and export of goods due to COVID-19 have caused many seasonal labourers to lose jobs and income. (Photo: VNA)

Pham Thi Son, head of Gia Du village (Phong Son town, Cam Thuy district, Thanh Hoa) said that the village initially comprised a list of 40 people facing difficulties due to COVID-19. However, according to guidance of the province, only 11 people were eligible for support. Many freelance workers who lost their jobs were not supported.

It was even more difficult for informal workers to access support, due to many problems in completing the necessary procedures.

Nguyen Thu Giang, Director of the Institute for Development & Community Health (LIGHT), highly appreciated the Government's 62,000 billion VND support package. However, Giang said that it is still difficult for migrant workers to access the support package. The reason is that the support conditions are too strict and the mechanism is overly complex.

Nguyen Thu Huong, Senior Manager of the Governance Program at Oxfam in Vietnam, cited as an example the requirement to " register for permanent or temporary residence", which was difficult to fulfil because migrant workers often move around while the procedures for obtaining temporary residence confirmation in many places are quite cumbersome and complicated.

In addition, while many people lost their jobs and saw their incomes reduced but could not access the support package, some well-off households received support due to errors in the reviewing process of poor and near-poor households. Through the processes of monitoring, inspection and supervision, the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs detected and handled a number of violations in the implementation of the support package in Thanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, Hanoi, Hung Yen, Gia Lai, and Dong Nai.

The emergency relief package is still in its infancy, so shortcomings are inevitable and problems may still arise. However, the Government has set the principle that support must be delivered to the right people, and it has continuously reviewed and revised policies to ensure that this happens./.