Sep 052014

Do you know that most of us can’t avail of housing loans from the Social Security System anymore?  Though I have not applied (thus have not been rejected) for this loan, it came as a surprise to me.  The fact is, many of us are not familiar with this agency’s updated products and services, and for those of us in the private sector who are SSS members, this may be our loss.

I thought it was an opportune time to invite a top SSS official to the TV show Business & Leisure. Vice president May Catherine Ciriaco came for a one-on-one interview and was happy to do so because they had something new to offer to our “kababayans” who may be recent calamity victims and wanted to share this with television viewers:

The SSS Calamity Relief Package may not seem significant to others, but for those who lost their house or their livelihood, the aid is welcome like manna. For pensioners in calamity areas for instance, they are allowed to advance three month’s pension to tide them over, and because of Yolanda, this was extended to six months’ worth of advance pension.

There is also the Salary Loan Renewal Program for those who still have outstanding salary loans with SSS. Such salary loans normally take two years to pay, but if records will show that you have paid at least half (one year), SSS allows the renewal of the loan and even waives the one percent service fee for the calamity victims.

Previously, there was a condonation program sponsored by this agency for certain bad loans, and one of the conditions was that the SSS member cannot avail of new loans within 10 months of availment of the condonation program. With the recent calamities, SSS has opened its doors to the hapless typhoon victims even if they have availed of the condonation within the 10 month window.

If you have never availed of any loan with SSS, there is also something for first time loaners.  Assuming that you already have enough contributions to qualify, you can avail of a one- or two-month loan, and the one percent service fee will be waived.

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Many southern residents realized their worst fears when their entire house was demolished like matchsticks by the rains and the raging ocean. The House Repair and Improvement Loan of the SSS gives as much as P1 million for such purposes, with interest rates reduced from the usual nine percent p.a. to six percent p.a. On top of this, the service fee of P3,000 is likewise waived. Where before the agency required a loan applicant to have all the necessary requirements within three months of the calamity, this period is now extended to one year for one to avail of the Calamity Relief Program.

What are needed to apply for this relief program?

The applicant must be a resident of an area declared by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council as a calamity area, and this must be validated by a certification from the pertinent barangay of this calamity-declared area.

In the recent case of Glenda, for instance, these areas include the Calabarzon area, Samar, Camarines Norte/Camarines Sur, Albay and actually Metro Manila.

For those who wish to apply for salary loans, the following must be presented:

• Social Security System or Unified SSS ID.

• Certification from one’s barangay that applicant is a resident of the area and was actually affected by the calamity.

• For OFWs whose immediate family live in the affected areas:  an undertaking from the OFW who is an active SSS member in behalf of his family and a certification from the barangay (officially declared calamitous area) where the family lives.

I think the SSS has actually eased the burden considerably for their calamity-stricken members with such easy documentary requirements, and the program package was put together with no time wasted.  Kudos!

Now to go back to the first paragraph of this column. As explained by Ms. May Catherine Ciriaco, this agency’s housing loan program was originally designed as a supplement to the government’s existing housing program. With Pag-ibig’s funding and assets deemed sufficient to address the national housing needs now, the Social Security System has now shifted its focus to servicing two other large sectors.

SSS is now limiting their direct housing loans to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and bona fide members of trade unions only.  For SSS members who wish to apply for housing loans, they must apply with banks for such loans.  Although SSS is open to financing such loans, it is entirely up to the bank to determine the loan value as well as the applicant’s eligibility for a loan though its own credit investigation. I don’t know exactly when this was adopted, but like many, this is entirely new to me.

Some sectors are entertaining doubts about this agency’s lifespan, fearing that when their turn as pensioners comes, the SSS coffers will be empty. Currently, there are 1.9 million pensioners in the SSS roster, 70 percent of whom are senior citizens. SSS has assets valued at P420 billion, and by the reckoning of their actuarians, these assets are sufficient to pay for SSS claims up to year 2043.  This actuarial valuation should ease the minds of many, seeing that we have 29 years to go of worry-free SSS membership. Incidentally, a deceased pensioner’s widow will continue to receive a lifetime pension for the deceased member.

There are 31 million SSS members as of now, and you will be pleased to know that aside from the regular pension benefits, an SSS member can also benefit from the Employees Compensation Fund if his injury or death is work-related. If, for instance, you meet an accident on the way to your regular work, you can actually apply for ECC benefits aside from your regular SSS benefits.

As a bonus to our readers/viewers, the SSS VP made an advance notice:  next month is the anniversary of SSS and to mark this, they are launching the Voluntary Provident Fund. While this was previously made available only to OFWs, anyone now who wishes to increase his monthly SSS contributions in order to avail of a higher pension when he/she retires may already do so.  In anticipation of more benefits in the future as the senior years creep in, they can opt to contribute more than the current ceiling of P16,000.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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