SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - On March 6, 2020, Government of Sint Maarten began implementing the measures and travel restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, to which Sint Maarten responded with further tightening of its travel restrictions and public health measures.
On March 22, 2020, our ports were closed for transportation of persons however, remained open for cargo operations. The pandemic continues to expand, with more than 175 countries having reported cases of COVID-19. The COVID-19 viral outbreak has already brought considerable human suffering and major economic disruption, prompting governments worldwide to act swiftly and forcefully with targeted public-health responses and supportive macroeconomic policies.
With the closure of its borders, the economic activity in Sint Maarten has drastically declined and is further projected to have continued adverse effects on the major economic pillar, tourism. The CBCS forecasts an economic contraction of approximately 30 percent of our GDP if borders remain closed for six (6) months.
As a result, the impact is not limited to the rapid increase of unemployment, but includes businesses and individuals failing to meet financial obligations, increased government budget deficits due to a sharp drop in tax revenues and increasing expenditures putting pressure on the balance of payments and foreign reserves coming under pressure.
Based on the above elucidation, Sint Maarten is in dire need of financial assistance to implement measures to assist affected groups, mitigate any potential spillover effects and restore growth, and confidence. The Government of Sint Maarten has put together a Relief and Economic Stimulus Program that captures direct relief for the following:
Payroll support for businesses that are impacted;
Income support for Sole proprietors, vendor license holders, bus and independent taxi drivers;
Income support for unemployed;
Liquidity support for the government;
The Income Support Program includes income support to sole proprietors, vendor license holders, independent bus and taxi drivers who are facing revenue losses due to COVID-19. Qualifying applicants will receive up to ANG 1,150. SMTF (St. Maarten Training Foundation) will assist government with the administration of the program. Total cost of this program is estimated to be ANG 1.34 million per month.
In addition to the established social assistance which will continue to be provided, a COVID-19-specific Unemployment Support Program has been developed. In a scenario in which payroll support is provided further limiting and reducing layoffs, ANG 1,150 will be provided to persons who become unemployed due to COVID-19. A total of Ang 3.6 million has been reserved. This program will also be implemented with the administrative assistance of STMF.
Details of the application can be found on www.ssrp.sx.
The government will be rolling out these programs this week. Working closely with SZV, the Payroll Support Plan which is geared towards job retention and creating a buffer for the increasing economic impact. Government will pay a maximum of 80% of payroll for qualifying businesses. This program has been prepared for a period of 3 months maximum. Though Sint Maarten still awaits the response of the Netherlands on the submitted proposed stimulus plan, and no COVID-19 financial support has thus far been received, the government thought it imperative to start now and has decided to use existing government liquidity to do so.
In order for employers to qualify for the Payroll Support Plan, they will be required to prove, based on the declared revenue (the total of the taxed- and exempted revenue) as per the comparison of the monthly TOT returns for the applicable months of 2019 and 2020, that their revenue has declined by more than 20% because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, the Government of Sint Maarten has introduced a program for employers to support employees that are not qualifying for the Payroll Support Plan but have a decline of revenue of more than 20% in the month of April 2020 as a result of the Lockdown. This additional program is referred to as the Lockdown Payroll Support Plan.
The Social and Health Insurances (SZV) has been entrusted by the Government of Sint Maarten to execute the Covid-19 Stimulus Payroll Support Plan on behalf of Government. Employers that want to apply for this Payroll Support Plan must have an active account for the SZV Employer Portal. This form is accessible via the SZV Employer Portal as of Tuesday April 21, 2020. Employers who would like to make use of the Payroll Support Plan or the Lockdown Payroll Support Plan, are urged to:
Read the detailed information on the COVID-19 Stimulus Payroll Support Plan at www.ssrp.sx
Register for an account for the SZV Employer Portal via www.szv.sx and start gathering all supporting documents.
Fill in the application form to request the Payroll Support Plan.
In addition to the Payroll Support Plan, the Government of Sint Maarten introduced a second payroll support plan, the Lockdown Payroll Support Plan. This program is for those employers that are not qualifying for the Payroll Support Plan and have a decline of their revenue of more than 20% in April 2020 (compared with April 2019) as the result of the lockdown that was enforced by Government as of April. Payment of the applicable contribution for Lockdown Payroll Support Plan will be done by SZV between May 25 and May 30, 2020.
The government has launched a website regarding information on support www.ssrp.sx. Employees will be able to contact a digital Employee Helpdesk. The Employee Helpdesk will become operational as of noon April 20, 2020. Employees will be able to ask questions and or request information.
Thus far, there has been no financial assistance provided by the Netherlands. The continuation of the stimulus plan as written is reliant on the approval and support of the stimulus plan being approved by the Netherlands.