Left jobless by pandemic, Colombia's informal workers to get government aid

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The poorest residents from street vendors to war victims will receive cash and food during the coronavirus lockdown in Colombia, where roughly half the wage earners work off the books with no savings, authorities said.

The government said it will spend $120 million to help about three million informal economy workers like cleaners, maids, street vendors and construction workers who lack a financial safety net.

The South American nation of 50 million people has been under lockdown since Tuesday to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected at least 539 people and killed eight in Colombia so far.

Colombians are under orders to stay at home until April 13, and the elderly are confined until the end of May.

President Ivan Duque announced this week that three million Colombians who are not participating in government welfare programs would receive $40 in a one-time cash transfer next week.

The amount is the equivalent to about 12% of the minimum monthly wage.

Duque said on a televised program from the presidential palace that the measures were introduced “so that we can weather these storms without hunger in our country.”

He also said about 2.6 million Colombian families who do receive a monthly cash transfer from the government’s ‘Families in Action’ program will get an additional payment of about $80.

The program mainly covers unemployed single mothers and poor rural families.

In addition, 206,000 young people participating in the government’s ‘Youth in Action’ welfare program will also receive an additional payment of about $50.

As the lockdown has brought the country’s informal economy to a halt, the streets of Bogota and other majors cities were empty, particularly hurting street sellers who rely on their daily earnings to buy food and pay rent.

Like others in the nation’s informal economy, they have no savings or access to bank loans and very limited health care.

In Bogota, a city of 8 million people, local authorities pledged this week to help the 53,000 registered street vendors by providing food parcels.

So far, about 3,500 parcels have been delivered.

Also getting aid are the nation’s nearly 9 million people listed as official victims of its 52-year war that ended in 2016, Duque said.

They are mostly people who were displaced from their rural homes by warring factions and now live in city slums.

Since 2011, war victims have been entitled to a one-time compensation payment of about $2,000.

Payments scheduled for later this year for 50,000 war victims will be moved up to as early as next month, the government has said.

But the benefits will not reach many of those in need who will be forced to fend for themselves, said Uber driver Juan Cardenas.

“I haven’t heard of anything or got anything. I’m not on any list to receive benefits,” Cardenas told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said he has not been able to work since the ride-hailing platform has been suspended during the lockdown.

“I’m going to have to eat less and borrow money,” he said.

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit