THE Social Security System (SSS) has released P2.62 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to 196,000 workers during the pandemic so far, the Department of Finance (DoF) said.

Citing a report from the state pension fund, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in a statement Tuesday that 90% of the total, or P2.35 billion, was released to 173,791 SSS members between March 2020 and June 2021 via the unemployment insurance benefit (UIB) program.

“Implemented effective March 2019, the UIB program is among the key institutional responses of the SSS to the COVID-19 pandemic for its affected members since March 2020,” Mr. Dominguez was quoted as saying in his letter to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III.

The DoF sent the letter in response to a query by Senator Grace S. Poe Llamanzares regarding the available jobless insurance benefits.

Mr. Dominguez cited the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 11199 or the Social Security Act authorizing UIB payouts for the involuntarily laid off when their companies downsize or halt operations.

Laid off employees are also entitled to benefits during economic downturns, natural calamities, human-made disasters and other “just causes for ending the employment relationship.”

Employees who are less than 60 years old with 36 months of contributions to the pension fund are eligible for the UIB program, under which they can receive half of their average monthly salary for a maximum of two months.

Laid off workers can apply for the program every three years.

Jobless numbers fell to 3.073 million in July from 3.76 million in June, as less restrictive lockdown settings allowed businesses to reopen and hire more workers.

As a result, the unemployment rate fell to 6.9% compared with the 7.7% posted in June and the 10% rate from a year earlier.

The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns triggered massive layoffs as more companies reduced their operations or shut down completely.

The DoF said the SSS allows members to file UIB claims via the My.SSS member portal. The pension fund has started using electronic payment channels to speed up payouts. — Beatrice M. Laforga