PHILIPSBURG:--- As the high cost of living has become a global issue, it is now that decision-makers are tested on their ability to lead and protect the citizens of St. Maarten, as there are measures available to minimize it. One of the groups in our community that is struggling with the situation the most, with extremely limited options to (an) alternative solution(s) is our pensioners and our impaired persons. They are suffering more now, than ever before. Unlike the younger generation who are also going through the struggle, has a choice/decided, when possible, to work 2, sometimes even 3 jobs just to meet their BASIC needs. This is not possible for most pensioners nor is it the desired solution.
In recent years since 10-10-10 several decision-makers have campaigned successfully to move the age of retirement from 60 to 62 (in 2016) and then again due to conditions for liquidity support, the majority of MP’s(14) voted for the pension reform, which included increasing the pension age to 65 (July 1, 2020). https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/mps-approve-national-ordinance-revising-civil-servants-pensions
The goal post is constantly being moved resulting in a longer working period and less retirement time. The pension age might change to 66 in 2023 and to 67 in 2025. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9JifTWiU60 )
To make matters worse under the current tax legislation the monthly pension income of pensioners is subject to be taxed.
Though there are certain benefits/services available for pensioners such as Transportation services provided by Helping Hands Foundation, reduction in payment of G.E.B.E. for those that qualify, services by the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation, services by the St. Maarten’s Senior Citizens Recreational Foundation, services from The Enhance Living Foundation and medical coverage from SZV. These are clearly not enough for pensioners to survive independently financially if they have not made other investment(s). In addition, most of these benefits/services also have a fee attached. There are those that have a spouse and still trying to make ends meet. Some pensioners are blessed to have their child(ren) to help them even though they themselves are struggling, but there are those that do not have any reliable support.
Some expenses that are significant for our pensioners to have are: payment of rent, because they do not own their own home, mortgage payments if rolled over into pension years, payment of utility bills(G.E.B.E., internet, cable TV), paying for medicine/vitamins not covered by SZV, paying for groceries, especially those that are on special diets due to an illness/need to consume healthier products, payment of maintenance cost and the yearly road tax for private transportation, there are those that need part-time and even full-time assistance at their home, which also has a price tag. To add salt to the wound, the tax department is sending a significant number of our pensioners, some with no other source of income, outstanding bills for tax assessment for as far back as 2017, to which the burden of proof lies on the pensioners or else, they would come for whatever they have left in their name.
Recently legislation has been drafted, debated, and approved by the competent authorities giving tax exemption and other luxurious benefits to people of foreign nationality (The Daily Herald May 17, 2022 ‘Green light for tax laws amendments pave way for exemptions for World Bank, IGOs’). Consequently, the country will be forfeiting much-needed funds. It was also stated in 2021 in an official public meeting and repeated on live steam that government collects approximately NAF 3 million from pension distribution.
It is time the decision-makers in this country start working in the best interest of seniors. Measures to help relieve our seniors need to become a reality today while they are still alive, and it should reach the point that Pensioners are no longer considered to be vulnerable, because of their financial shortcomings. Our decision-makers in collaboration with various companies/foundations should invest in providing our pensioners with food voucher programs/discount cards. In addition, pensioners should also be provided with a public bus pass that would allow them to travel for free in public transportation. Decision-makers should also exempt pensioners from being taxed on their AOV pension as well as raise the pension amount. If we can do it for the “HAVES” we definitely should do it for the “HAVE NOTS”.