A new breed of heroes has emerged on our country's landscape. They work hard to provide for their families, toil endlessly in foreign lands to get their children through school, and sacrifice relationships to uplift the economy of our nation as a whole.
Of course, we're talking about our very own Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), one of the last bastions of hope for our country's economic recovery. These tireless workers labor everyday in faraway countries to help us get by, and in turn, these heroes receive all the benefits accorded to them such as special financial programs, workers' insurance, and an overseas fund.
And now, our very own Social Security System (SSS) has added another highlight to the OFWs financial security. Starting immediately, the SSS is conducting the SSS Flexi-Fund Program: A Voluntary Provident Fund for Overseas Filipino Workers. The program is a voluntary provident fund that provides a mechanism for the OFW to save more for the future, complementing the benefits under the regular SSS programs. This means the program is open only to OFWs abroad and is added on top of existing SSS-OFW membership benefits.
"What we noticed is the OFW earns a lot in a short period of time, pagkatapos, wala na," says SSS president Vitaliano Naņagas II. "So this is a way for the OFW to even it out," he adds. The program is tax-free and OFW members can avail of the fund as early as three years after the commencement date, or choose to leave the fund alone until they retire. The fund aims to provide OFWs with a mechanism to save part of their incomes provided by overseas employment.
Confronted with finding a means of livelihood once they return to the country, the SSS Flexi-Fund allows SSS-OFW members to prepare by encouraging saving while they are employed overseas. Members have the option to avail of the accumulated balance in their provident fund to meet their financial needs. Early withdrawals can finance housing, education, or capital for business. When held to retirement age, the provident fund can finance the member's needs in old age in the form of monthly pension, a lump sum payment or both. The fund is a significant supplement to existing benefits under the regular SSS programs. Naņagas asserts, "This is in response to the OFWs, to help them re-enter the mainstream of Filipino society after years of hard work overseas.
Since OFWs earn higher levels of income that are otherwise not available locally, the voluntary fund encourages OFWs to take advantage of the earnings boost by saving a greater portion of it for future needs. Because it is a provident fund, all amounts accumulated plus interest shall accrue solely to the SSS-OFW member.
Membership in the fund is open to all OFWs who fall under the following categories:
- recruited in the Philippines by a foreign-based employer for employment abroad;
- having a source of income in a foreign country; or
- residing permanently in a foreign country.
OFWs can contact the foreign branches of the SSS for an application to the program. OFWs based in countries without existing SSS offices may submit applications via mail or email addressed to the International Affairs and Branch Expansion (IABE) office.
An OFW can pay his contribution to the fund anytime, provided that, at the time of payment the maximum required monthly contribution is paid to the regular Social Security program. Any amount paid in excess of the required maximum monthly contribution to the regular Social Security program shall be applied to the fund. An OFW may continue paying the contribution under this fund even after the termination of his overseas employment, as long as the OFW continues to pay the required maximum contribution to the regular Social Security program. Payments shall cease upon filing of a final claim under the regular SSS program.
Overall, the SSS Flexi-Fund's program includes benefits such as:
A member who has reached 60 years of age is entitled to a retirement benefit.
DEATH AND DISABILITY
Upon the death of a pensioner (e.g. retirement, disability or early withdrawal pensioner), the beneficiary shall receive a lump sum benefit equivalent to the cash value of the remaining pension.
A member may withdraw his contributions to the fund including interest anytime.
With the help of the Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Foreign Affairs, the SSS is hopeful in making this program available in all OFW countries by the end of the year.
"Basically, ang konsentrasyon namin ay service. Iyon lang naman ang kailangan ng taong-bayan, service, service, and more service," states Naņagas with a smile. "Iyon ang SSS."
Source: GSIS Expanded Bahay Ko Program (EBKP)