LOCAL GOVERNMENT units (LGUs) have used only P5.5 billion of their one-time grants to support their coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) containment efforts, a Budget official said, adding that no more additional funding will be provided.

Undersecretary Laura B. Pascua told BusinessWorld that counting by liquidation reports, only 14.86% has been used of the P37-billion Bayanihan grant program.

“The largest part of the fund was used by LGUs for food assistance and medical supplies,” Ms. Pascua said via Viber last week.

She said LGU constituents were also benefiting from the social programs of the national government, including those implemented by the social welfare, health and labor departments.

“There is no plan to give additional funds to LGUs aside from their IRA (internal revenue allotment) for this year, and the funds under Local Government Support Fund (LGSF),” Ms. Pascua added.

In a hearing by a House of Representatives committee last week, Acting Socio-economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said that LGUs have sufficient funds to respond to the pandemic as the usage rate of their Bayanihan grants is still “really small.”

However, Bataan Second District House Rep. Jose Enrique S. Garcia III said the funds were difficult to utilize as LGUs because of the limited spending areas eligible for funding.

“I think the problem with the downloaded funds for the LGUs is may menu, limited lang din kasi ‘yung pwede nilang gamitin with the menu… parang nasa health lang ‘yung menu eh, so talagang hindi ganun kadaling i-utilize (LGUs were limited by the menu, which mostly allows health expenses, and that makes the grant not easy to utilize,” Mr. Garcia said at the same hearing.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in mid-April released to LGUs the one-time financial aid worth P30.8 billion to cities and municipalities and P6.2 billion to provinces. The amount is equivalent to one month of their IRA, or their share of the national taxes, for cities and municipalities and half a month’s worth for the provinces.

The grant is meant to boost LGUs’ war chest against COVID-19 pandemic, which can only be used during the six-month period of state of calamity that started on March 16. If not extended, the state of calamity across the country will end by September.

Among the items where the Bayanihan grant can be used are personal protective equipment; test kits; medical supplies, tools and equipment; food, transportation and accommodation expenses for health workers and other personnel of public hospitals; construction, repair or rental of additional establishments to accommodate COVID-19 patients or those for monitoring; training of personnel and other COVID-19-related expenses of the local government and the hospitals it operates.

The DBM said the funds cannot be used for cash assistance programs; personnel services expenditures such as salaries; administrative and traveling expenses; registration fees for training, seminars and conferences; furniture, fixtures, equipment or appliances for administrative offices, and motor vehicles, including ambulances.

Unutilized funds will be remitted back to the national treasury. — Beatrice M. Laforga