The Social Security System (SSS) strengthened its campaign to widen SSS coverage among the self-employed and the “hard-to-reach” informal sector after it signed an agreement providing SSS coverage and services to over 25,000 women entrepreneurs of Ahon sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI) based in southern Luzon and Visayas.

SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emilio de Quiros, Jr. said the pension fund’s new partnership with ASHI, a microfinance institution that assists self-employed women from poor families, will make it easier for ASHI members to apply for SSS membership, loans and benefits.

“The SSS shares ASHI’s goal of helping alleviate poverty through financial assistance. As covered SSS members, women workers from ASHI can save for their retirement and avail themselves of SSS benefits during times of sickness, maternity, disability, old age and death,” he added.

De Quiros and ASHI President Mila Mercado-Bunker signed the memorandum of agreement as part of ASHI’s 22nd anniversary celebration held at Morong, Rizal on May 17. Some 1,000 attendees from ASHI’s 21 branches in Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Antique and Aklan also witnessed the event.

ASHI is the 4th accredited SSS servicing partner agent after the Deep Well Sumulong Irrigators Association in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija; Simbag sa Pag-asenso, Inc. in Legazpi City, Albay; and CARD Inc. in Bay, Laguna signed similar agreements within the first quarter of 2013.

“We will continue to pursue more tie-ups with organized groups so that we can bring SSS services within reach of more workers, especially those from the informal sector. We are heartened by the interest showed by various groups across the country to partner with SSS for the social security coverage of their members,” de Quiros said, adding that several groups are already lined up for SSS accreditation.

An SSS servicing partner agent is authorized to designate representatives from its organization who can receive its members’ applications for SSS registration, salary loans and funeral benefits, which lessens the need of workers to go to an SSS office for these transactions.

“In return, we pay our partner agents a processing fee for every approved SSS transaction, which they can then use to enhance their services for the benefit of their membership,” de Quiros said. “We also provide them training so that their designated representatives are well-informed on how to carry out their SSS duties.”

The SSS expects to cover 90 percent of the total 27,300 ASHI members. Established in 1991 as a non-stock, non-profit and non-government organization, ASHI provides direct and collateral-free loans to women from poor families to help them enhance their earning capacity as a way out of poverty.