At least 7.63 million salaried workers have dipped into their retirement savings to deal with the covid-19 crisis since the start of the pandemic last year, the Union government said on Monday. The Centre also allowed EPF subscribers to withdraw more money from their Employees’ Provident Fund corpus to deal with the hardships and income loss.

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) said its efforts to offer non-refundable covid-19 advances helped millions. As on 31 May, EPF subscribers had withdrawn almost 18,700 crore. The covid-19 disbursements also reflect the hardships the salaried class is undergoing over the last 14 months.

“The covid-19 advance has been a great help to EPF members during the pandemic, especially for those having monthly wages of less than 15,000. As on date, EPFO has settled more than 76.31 lakh covid advance claims, thereby disbursing a total of 18,698.15 crore,” the EPFO, which operates under the labour ministry, said in a statement.

According to a government official familiar with the developments, over the last five months, almost 2 million people have dipped into their EPF corpus. The trend has picked up since the last two-and-half months. While around 5.67 million claims were settled by the end of December 2020, the claim settlement figure has now climbed to 7.63 million.

“Things were looking better in the first three months of the 2021 calendar year, but April and May have been tough. The claim settlement and disbursement amount shows the stress among formal salaried workers,” the official said, seeking anonymity.

The retirement fund body said it is now allowing its members to avail covid-19 advances for the second time in view of the surge in cases following the second wave of infections. EPFO’s active subscriber base stands at around 60 million.

“In such trying times, EPFO endeavours to lend a helping hand to its members by meeting their financial needs. Members who have availed the first covid-19 advance can now opt for a second advance also. The provision and process for withdrawal of the second covid-19 advance is same as in the case of the first advance,” the retirement fund body said.

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