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 $350M in Covid Grants and Counting…  Social Development Ministry Using 2005 Rates

Chair of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee Bridgid Annisette-George. Photo/T&T Parliament

$350M in Covid Grants and Counting…

Social Development Ministry Using 2005 Rates

By Sue-Ann Wayow

GOVERNMENT dishes out more than $350 million in income relief grants for people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is based on 2005 poverty rates.

According to a report submitted to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services stated that expenditure up until November 30, 2020, in food support, hampers, food vouchers, income support and rental assistance was $351, 928, 855.

On Wednesday, the PAAC met virtually with staff from the ministry including acting Permanent Secretary Sheila Seecharan and acting Deputy Permanent Secretary Vijay Gangapersad for the Examination of the response of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services Sheila Seecharan. Photo/T&T Parliament

Seecharan said the figure represented grants already processed and paid and was expected to be increased.

However, initially the calculations provided by the ministry did not align with the calculations of committee member Amrita Deonarine who did a computation of the figures provided and said it actually added up to $509million.

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The $351, 928, 855 was split into two major components, food support which was $17,144,100 and represented persons who were already on the ministry’s data base and were food recipients apart from Covid-19, explained Seecharan.

The other component, food and income support to retrenched terminated income reduced for an initial period not exceeding three months expenditure was $237, 465, 120 which was further broken down into expenditure for food – $80, 445, 870 and the income component was $157,19,250 as later clarified by Gangapersad.

Deputy Permanent Secretary Vijay Gangapersad. Photo/T&T Parliament

He apologised for the error saying that an additional column which provided the figures should not been included and that there was a double count.

When asked if there was any cap on the expenditure by chairperson of the committee Bridgid Annisette-George, Seecharan replied, “Expenditure is based on application received. So there is no cap. Once the process was open for the intake of applications, we would have received applications and processed.”

While she does not have an idea of what the final figure would be, Seecharan said the ministry was awaiting release of an additional $23 million.

Seecharan said there were new applications and no one received in excess of three months.

She said the ministry has been accepting and processing applications since March to December.

Acceptance of applications was now halted.

Annisette-George expressed concern over the three-month grant period and Gangapersad explained, “We had an effective date of the 1st of March, 2020 for the payment of our grant.

“The grant per say would be paid for a period of three months whenever you applied for the grant.

“We did not fix to a period for instance April, May and June, if you applied for the grant anytime before the 4th of December and payment is made, it will be made for a period of three months.”

With reference to the food grant made available for persons already in the ministry’s system, Seecharan said 14,737 people received a “top up” with a three-month payment condensed into one.

Gangapersad also clarified that the number was in fact 25,111 which were all in receipt of food grants already on the database as at April 2020.

In addition to the more that 25,000 people, 29,261 families as at January were now listed on the ministry’s permanent food card beneficiary listing.

The 25,111 payments ranged from $100 to $450 based on members of the household.

Gangapersad also said there were 4,721 persons who applied for the food and income support grant and were awaiting payments.

Committee member Wade Mark asked about a poverty rate in which to measure what would have been the appropriate sum to allocate for families with specific need of nutritional meals.

Seecharan said the ministry was using 2005 information which Mark said was at a disadvantage to recipients.

Member of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee Wade Mark. Photo/T&T Parliament

He asked, “Can you share with us whether the ministry has been able to determine a poverty rate in the context of what would be required in terms of dollars and cents for a person to have the appropriate nutritional intake given the quantum that they would be receiving from the Ministry of Social Development to deal with their daily needs?

“Is there any kind of mechanism within that framework that would be guiding the Ministry of Social Development?”

Seecharan replied, “We do a standards means test. It takes into account the survey of living conditions.

“Unfortunately, we are using that data from 2005 which would have told us what is the poverty line and what is the vulnerability line.

“There was a survey done in 2014 but there were reasons why it was not accepted.”

Gangapersad added, “The ministry, notwithstanding the limitations as it relates to updated poverty reports, we did use the retail price index to inflate the figures that were provided to us in the last report… to give us a more realistic point in time estimate of the levels.”

Gangapersad gave a breakdown of the number of persons receiving Covid-19 related grants:

  • Food ‘top-ups’ – 25,101;
  • Food support -52,579;
  • Income support – 50, 696;
  • Top ups given to existing public assistance and disabilities assistance beneficiaries – 42, 451;
  • Grant given to persons who applied for pension but whose case was not determined- 2, 218;
  • Applied for disability but grants not determined – 488; Emergency hampers- 14,000;
  • Hampers Food vouchers in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and MPs – 24,999;
  • Rental assistance – 4322; and
  • Cards through the school feeding programme and the MPs – 20,497 children.

PAAC’s vice-chair Dr Lackram Bodoe suggested that information be made available to Members of Parliament to show how many persons received grants by constituency which the current system does not allow.

Seecharan said such information would be useful.

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