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Blakeney: ‘Anyone deemed qualified will get financial assistance’

A rising number of people in need may mean Government has to spend more than budgeted for on financial aid, the House of Assembly heard yesterday.

Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Shawn Crockwell suggested a decrease of more than $1 million in the Department of Financial Assistance's budget for 2011-12 would mean some people having to go without state help. “I think there is a quandary that the Department is going to have to grapple with and unfortunately there will be individuals who will not be able to get [assistance],” he said.

But Youth, Families and Community Development Minister Glenn Blakeney denied that was the case.

“He's misleading the House and the general public,” complained the Minister. “The [Department of] Financial Assistance is under statutory legislative regulations.

“Anyone deemed qualified will get financial assistance because of a statutory requirement.”

Mr Crockwell said: “That's good news. Clearly, there is a reduction in the budget that's available for what the Department can give.”

He said it was likely Government would have to return to the House to seek approval on an overspend.

“If more individuals are applying and if they meet the statutory requirement then, at some point, if this particular amount runs out they [Government] would have to come back for more.”

The Department has been given $23.9 million for the coming financial year, which starts on April 1, compared to $25 million for 2010-11. Mr Blakeney said yesterday: “The Department of Financial Assistance is aware that many people in the community are experiencing change in times of economic challenge but the Department has a statutory obligation to assist those most in need.

“The Department also has an equal obligation to prevent abuses and therefore will be taking steps to ensure that any area deemed to be susceptible to abuse is targeted and eliminated.”

He said efforts to prevent bogus claims would be stepped up and there would be harsher penalties. A non-cash card for buying food from approved local stores will be introduced and there will be schemes to help claimants manage their money.

“The theme of work fair not welfare will be used to encourage people to find and stay in work,” added the Minister.

He revealed that 1,600 people have so far applied for financial assistance in 2010-11, compared to 1,457 the previous year.

The number of seniors making a claim each month rose from 444 to 664, while the number of disabled claimants went from 446 to 609.

“There continues to be an increase in persons applying for assistance,” said Mr Blakeney. “The majority continue to be seniors, disabled and special needs.

“The Department of Financial Assistance remains committed to serving our clientele in the most effective, efficient and client-friendly manner.”

Shadow Minister Charlie Swan said the number of people requiring financial assistance had “sky-rocketed” since the late 1990s.

“The fact that the budget has been reduced this year defies any explanation,” he said, adding that Government had under-budgeted for the Department of Financial Assistance in previous years.

The average amount given out in financial aid was $1,736 in 2009-10 and it typically took ten working days for applicants to receive their money.

The number of children assisted by the Department in 2009-10 was 1,750, compared to 1,250 in 2008-9.

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Published March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am (Updated March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am)

Blakeney: ‘Anyone deemed qualified will get financial assistance’

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