Public assistance system undergoing changes
Work has begun to review the existing public welfare legislation to make a shift from a welfare system to a more inclusive model of social protection.
Government senator, Ashelle Morgan said in Parliament earlier this month that consultations to redraft the Public Assistance Act started last year, and consultations also began last year to develop a supporting Information Management System (IMS).
The IMS is being done under the World Bank HDSD Project (Human Development Service Delivery Project) project.
“Vincentians deserve public assistance laws that are responsive to the economic and environmental threats we face…” Morgan said as she contributed to debate on the 2022 budget.
“Vincentians deserve public assistance laws that identify and provide for vulnerable persons”… and “public assistance laws that guarantee a more equitable distribution of the state’s resources.”
It is acknowledged that there are more efficient ways to administer public assistance, and the way poverty is measured and defined has significant implications for how social protection policies are structured.
The Information Management System will therefore seek to identify and categorise the most vulnerable persons and assess their needs in order to help them in tangible ways.
It is expected to streamline the process of getting public assistance and aims to avoid waste and duplication of efforts across all the tiers of public assistance in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The IMS will also provide proof of how the state’s public assistance resources are actually distributed and will lay the foundation for the more equitable distribution of these resources.
Implementation is scheduled for June 2022.
The public assistance payment system is said to have recently undergone a number of revisions. According to Morgan, “Under the CDB Covid Relief project, a pilot program was started last year where public assistance was distributed via reloadable ATM Cards. Instead of lining up to collect public assistance payments people were given debit cards and the cards were topped up monthly with the public assistance funds.” A total of “477 persons were able to benefit from the program and this program is expected to continue in 2022,” the senator said.
She pointed out that, “This was not only more convenient for the ministry and the recipients, but it made the process of receiving public assistance a bit more dignified. It was so successful that the aim is to administer cash transfers in this way for other public assistance programs.”
Morgan said “…it has worked so well that this country is now a model for other Caribbean countries in the delivery of digital public assistance payments.”
And, donor agencies are also said to be pleased with the administration of the project as “the funds go directly from the donor agent into the specified bank account and then the reloadable ATM cards are then topped up. There will be greater transparency and greater accountability,” the government senator noted.
“This government has recognised that in light of the current socio-economic trends and the projections of the World Bank, there is a need to reform the social protection system to protect the poor and the vulnerable in our country,” Morgan added.