Govt tackling poverty rise
By Krystel Rolle
Guardian Staff Reporter
The number of people receiving social assistance from the government has more than doubled in the past eight years, a sign that poverty increased during that period, Social Services officials revealed yesterday.
There are currently between 8,000 and 10,000 people in New Providence receiving some form of help from the government, according to Social Service Director Melanie McKenzie. That’s compared to 2004 when there were only about 3,000 people who were receiving some form of social assistance.
Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin said the number would increase substantially if the Family Islands were included.
However, she did not have those numbers on hand yesterday.
Griffin and McKenzie were responding to questions during a contract signing with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a $7.5 million loan for the establishment of a social safety net program. The loan agreement was signed at the Office of the Prime Minister.
While speaking in the House of Assembly weeks ago on a resolution to borrow the money from the IDB, Griffin revealed that millions of dollars have been spent on social relief in the past two years alone.
Between July 2010 to June 2011, the Department of Social Services spent $687,644.21 on electricity bills; $98,0972.99 on Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) bills; $1,026,195 on rental assistance; $89,573 on burial assistance; $6.5 million on food coupon payments; $1.3 million on permanent food coupons, and another $4.6 million on temporary food coupons.
Between July 2011 and June 2012, the Department of Social Services spent $758,676 on electricity bills; $88,798 on WSC bills; $1.2 million on rental assistance; $6.6 million on food coupon payments; $1.4 million on permanent food coupons, and another $4.8 million on temporary food coupons.
The social safety net program seeks to reduce poverty through the introduction of a conditional cash transfer (CCT) targeted at the poor. Through the program, cash grants will be provided on the condition that households comply with health and education conditions focused on children.
During yesterday’s signing, IDB representative Astrid Winter said the program will upgrade social services in The Bahamas.
“This initiative will help to consolidate all existing social service programs while promoting lifestyle changes in struggling families,” Winter said.
“Eligible families will receive assistance while meeting the demands of transitioning to a healthier lifestyle to combat the alarming rates of obesity in the country and we are talking specifically about child obesity, which leads to a number of debilitating issues later in life.”
The program will also address education deficiencies, she noted.
Griffin said the program will revolutionize the delivery of social assistance in the country.
She said the need for social safety reforms is critical.
“Change is not always easy,” Griffin said. “We have some challenging days ahead as we seek to change what has been in place for many, many years.”
She said the program will help break the cycle of poverty.
Key activities to be funded by the social safety net program include a nationwide survey to ascertain the characteristics of poverty in The Bahamas; the modernization of the delivery method for food stamps in New Providence and Grand Bahama, and an alteration in the method of determining recipients of assistance.
Aug 31, 2012