HOUSE LEGISLATORS approved a bill Monday extending the validity of the 2021 national budget in order to avoid disrupting projects intended to support the economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.

In a vote of 168-6 with no abstentions, the House approved House Bill 10373 on third and final reading, which if enacted would extend the validity of appropriations under the 2021 General Appropriations Act to Dec. 31, 2022.

Completion, inspection, and payment of infrastructure projects and maintenance and operating expenses are also subject to that deadline.

A counterpart bill has been filed in the Senate and is pending at the committee level.

ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric G. Yap, the author of the bill, said that the pandemic disrupted the government’s operations and delayed the release and issuance of funds to various agencies.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said it had released 97.4% of this year’s P4.5-trillion budget as of the end of October.

The DBM added that government agencies’ cash usage rate as of October was 91%, against 77% a year earlier.

The National Government, local governments and state-owned companies used P3.05 trillion out of the P3.35 trillion worth of notices of cash allocation issued to them during the period.

The economy grew 7.1% year on year in the third quarter, against the revised 12% growth rate posted in the second quarter, after fresh lockdowns were imposed in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to contain the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The House approved the proposed P5.024-trillion budget for next year on third and final reading on Sept. 30.

The Senate is hoping to pass its version of the budget measure on third and final reading by this week after ending plenary debate on the measure on Nov. 24.

Congress is under pressure to pass the budget bill by year’s end to avoid a reenacted budget.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has approved similar legislation that extended the validity of the 2019 and 2020 national budgets. — Russell Louis C. Ku