Published On: Tue, May 12th, 2020

COVID-19 Income Support only for permit holders

St. Maarten informal economy 1 - JH

PHILIPSBURG – The deadline for application for COVID-19 Income Support for vendors and taxi drivers for the month of April 2020 expired on Sunday, May 10th. Payments will commence from next Friday, May 15th. As the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan is reviewing applications, the question arises who should get the income support in case a permit holder ‘rents out’ his permit.

Subletting, sharing and selling permits is a common practice in St. Maarten. A few hundred entrepreneurial individuals pay between $650 and $1300 per month to permit holders to operate a taxi, a watersport activity, beach spot, or act as a tour guide. Many of them are undocumented immigrants.

The reason for permit holders to sublease their rights to operate a business, is because they have a steady job, have several permits and can’t operate that many businesses at the same time, or are no longer living on the island, but want to keep the monthly income. Among permit holders are Americans and Canadians. Officially only those with a Dutch passport are eligible for a permit, according to the St. Maarten Vending & Beach Policy.

All of the aforementioned business activities relate to tourism and have come to a halt due to COVID-19. As stated by the St. Maarten Stimulus & Relief Plan (SSRP), “the foremost affected are all economic activities that are directly related to tourism; the so-called frontline or first tier. Depending on the source and what is considered “directly related, indirect and induced”, tourism accounts for 50 – 80 % of the GDP of St. Maarten. This further cements the need for substantial financial injection considering the current dilemma.”

While it is not known when the ban on passenger flights into St. Maarten will be lifted, and cruise ships are not expected to return in numbers before the end of this year, vulnerable groups within the tourism sector are among the hardest hit. Daily vendors are left without income amid the lockdown. Those who can’t produce a chamber excerpt, bus or taxi license or vending permit of any kind are not eligible for Income Support.

Minister of Finance Ardwell Irion said during a press briefing that the COVID-19 Income Support is intended for permit holders as well as their helpers. “We intend to help both,” said Irion, referring only to Help Drivers. According to the SSRP website, a help driver can apply for Income Support by submitting all required documents and his or her ‘Help-Driver Permit’ issued by the government that states the person’s name.

Applicants whose permits or bus and taxi license have expired within the last six months will qualify, reassures SSRP. Approval of applications will be followed by payment from the 15th of this month. Income Support is a grant, not a loan, emphasizes Finance Minister Irion. “We do not deduct outstanding taxes or other fees owed to the Government.” Applicants must resubmit their application before May 22nd to qualify for the months of May and June.

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