DOH: No budget for SRA, benefits of health workers in 2022

One sad development in the ongoing Congress hearing for the proposed 2022 national budget: No funds were allocated for Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and other benefits of nurses and other health care workers. 

In the budget hearing at House of Representatives on Thursday, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque confirmed that there is no funds for benefits of health workers after their request was denied by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). 

The DOH initially proposed ₱73.99 billion worth of COVID-19 response funds, of which ₱50.41 billion was for SRA, hazard duty pay, meals, accommodation and transportation, and life insurance of health workers, Duque said. But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved ₱19.68 billion, he added. 

DOH SRA for health workers

“The budget we proposed to DBM was actually ₱73.99 billion,” Duque said in a House hearing, referring to funds for pandemic response. The department's total budget proposal was ₱242 billion.

Duque made the remark after Rep. Stella Quimbo pointed out that the ₱19.68-billion budget seems “too small” compared to the total COVID-19 response funds released from March 2020 to June this year, which stood at ₱160.97 billion. 

Quimbo then asked him if SRA funds were among those affected by the budget cut. Duque said Quimbo’s assumption was correct. 

Duque added the DOH is counting on the passage of the Bayanihan 3 bill to fund health worker’s benefits next year, but Quimbo told him there was no “itemized appropriation” for SRA in the proposed law. Quimbo then asked Duque if the DOH would propose a budget increase. He said the department will submit a new proposal, which may include funding for the compensation of frontline personnel who caught the coronavirus. 

Bayanihan 2 specified that all “those catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients” shall get SRA. This law expired on June 30. Despite the expiration of the validity of funds for appropriations under Bayanihan 2, many healthcare workers have yet to receive their SRA. 

Citing DBM data, Quimbo also noted that the DOH still has ₱51.2-billion worth of unobligated pandemic funds as of June 30, and asked why these can’t be used for the payment of the benefits. 

Rowena Lora, OIC-Director IV of the DOH’s Finance Management Service, said that as of end-August, a significant amount of these remaining funds has already been obligated for additional vaccines. She added their operating units still have a lot of other COVID-related expenses. 

“We have been trying to look for the funds needed for the benefits of the health workers,” Lora said. “Since last week, we have been coordinating with them para ma-prioritize kung ano 'yung kailangan at pwedeng ma-free up from the funds [to prioritize what’s needed and what can be freed up from the funds],” she continued, referring to meetings with the DOH regional offices and operating units. 

Duque also asked that the department be given more time to assess which funds can be realigned for the SRA. 

“Give us time and we will identify, most certainly, what these programs or activities and projects [are], which yield the lowest impact among all that we have been implementing,” he said. 

The DOH earlier asked the DBM twice for additional SRA funds. 

The DBM has so far released ₱311 million for the first batch - which comprises 20,156 health workers, of which ₱308 million has been disbursed to medical facilities, DOH Director Larry Cruz earlier said. T

The DOH earlier sought another ₱201 million for the second batch - which covers over 17,000 health workers. It plans to submit another budget request for the SRA of 80,000 more, Duque previously said. 

Health Assistant Secretary Mylene Beltran said 399,325 health workers have already received their SRA as of Aug. 26. (via CNN)

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