SAFETY NET: Allocation for social Services assistance increases over pre-pandemic levels

SAFETY NET: Allocation for social Services assistance increases over pre-pandemic levels

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While social services assistance is expected to increase by 50 percent over pre-pandemic level of assistance, the over budget for the Department of Social Services will decrease by some 40 percent in the upcoming fiscal period.

The drop largely reflects the decreased need for social services assistance which was inflated during the current and last fiscal periods as a result of record unemployment levels associated with the height of the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying restrictions and business closures.

“We have made a permanent increase in social assistance by 50 percent in comparison to pre-pandemic levels,” Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said during the budget communication in Parliament.

“This increased assistance is to be disbursed through the re-introduction of a conditional cash transfer program, commonly referred to as the RISE program.

“The audit of the food program recently tabled in the House showed that there was no accounting for a sizeable portion of the funds allocated to assist citizens during the pandemic.

“We are intent on taking the steps necessary to avoid a repeat of this outcome in the future.

“We have also increased funding for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) by 10 percent across the board and have provided allocations to the two feeding programs headed by Bishop Walter Hanchell and Bishop Lawrence Rolle.

“They have provided meals throughout the pandemic and continue to do so now with little to no public sector support.”

According to the budget, recurrent expenditure for ‘social assistance benefits in cash’ will decrease from $152.2 million to $51.4 million.

A total of $265,828 was spent in the 2019/2020 fiscal period on social services benefits.

The following period, $5 million was allocated for the line item.

The government will expend $21.5 million on the food assistance program, well over pre-pandemic levels.

In the 2019/2020 fiscal period, just over $16 million was dished out for food assistance.

Between July 2020 and March 2021, nearly $44 million was spent for this purpose.

In the fiscal period 2020/2021, the government spent $245 million on social assistance benefits in cash.

Since the reopening of the country and the removal of the restrictions associated with the public state of emergency, many sectors of the economy have reopened and begun to rebound, with thousands returning to work.

According to the budget, Great Commission Ministries will receive a $100,000 allocation in the upcoming budget, while the National Singing Bishop Feed Foundation Limited will receive $75,000.

The budget shows grants to charitable organizations will increase from $783,000 to just over $861,000.

The budget allocation for social assistance benefits in 2020/2021 was $25 million.

Uniform assistance will see a decrease in the upcoming period — from $1.9 million to just over $800,000.

In 2019/2020, just over $400,000 was spent on uniform assistance.

This is well above the $52,458 spent on uniform assistance in the 2020/2021 fiscal period, when the majority of schools remain closed and learned continued virtually due to the ongoing pandemic and concerns about the spread of the virus on campus.

Overall, the budget for the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development will increase from $12.9 million to $13.85 million, while the Department of Social Services budget will decrease — from $81.4 million to $48.75 million.

The Department of Social Services will also receive a $500,00 allocation in capital expenditure in the upcoming budget.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.