Just half of school relief requests have been processed
More than 900 applications for government relief to help cover school supplies have been processed for payment, the Minister of Education said.
But the figure represents less than half of the requests made for the $150 available per public school pupil.
Diallo Rabain told the House of Assembly that 2,253 applications were received by the ministry up to yesterday.
He added that 1,725 were vetted for approval and, of those, 933 were processed by the Accountant-General’s office for payment.
Mr Rabain listed a string of reasons – including problems with supporting documents and challenges encountered by parents unfamiliar with the education department’s online system – that contributed to “unforeseen delays in some payment disbursements”.
He told MPs: “This Government has provided $567,000 to help alleviate parents' yearly school expenses.
“The primary purpose of the relief is to help parents and guardians purchase school supplies, whether school shoes, sneakers, uniforms, sweaters, school bags, lunch kits, etc.”
Mr Rabain added: “The $150 relief is a one-time payment to parents and was rolled out on September 2, 2022.
“Technical officers from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance took the time to ensure the application and payment process was thorough and payments were provided to eligible persons only.
“The Department of Education's PowerSchool System has been set up so that eligible parents can submit their applications directly into the system.”
He explained: “Every parent or guardian of public-school students has access to this system.
“When a child is enrolled as a public-school student, they are given an account with log-on details.
“Parents are positioned to check their child's school grades and daily attendance and obtain any other information that the school or teachers may share with parents.
“The $150 relief application form has been designed within PowerSchool and is linked directly to each student's PowerSchool account using the student's school ID number.
“Only parents and guardians listed as the primary contact on the student's PowerSchool account are eligible for the $150 relief.”
Mr Rabain said that parents were give an easy-to-follow list of instructions on how to apply for the funds.
He highlighted that payments from the public purse must follow the Accountant-General’s office financial compliance requirements.
Mr Rabain added: “This means that for the person applying for the relief, a government issued ID must be submitted along with proof of document showing a bank account number with the same name and address as the applicant.”
He explained: “Once the application and banking information has been verified, a payment request is sent to the Accountant-General.
“After their due diligence and compliance checks, the funds are sent to the parent's bank account.
“I take the opportunity to remind parents and guardians to ensure that all the information sent is accurate.
“The minimum time for the process from application to payment is ten business days after submitting a completed application.”
MPs heard: “While, in theory, the application process is straightforward, this exercise has revealed various scenarios that have led to unforeseen delays in some payment disbursements.
“To date, the team working on the vetting has come across:
• Applications by persons who are not the primary parent.
• Applications are submitted, but the required supporting documents are not being sent in a timely fashion or following the process for it to be easily vetted.
• The Office of the Accountant-General required banking and ID documentation not matching the person who has applied.
• While having PowerSchool accounts, parents either have never accessed the system before or have not accessed it in a long time leading to difficulties remembering login details, passwords or how to navigate to the application form.
• Children in the same household, having different primary parents assigned in PowerSchool.
• Parents not recognising that an application must be made separately for each child in order for the Government to maintain a clean accounting and auditing record.“
Mr Rabain said that the problems showed where improvements could be made to the PowerSchool system and also presented an opportunity for parents to update contact details and become more familiar with the platform.
He added: “I take this time to apologise to anyone who has applied and has not received their $150 relief payment.
“We are bound by the Government's financial due diligence, and want to ensure the correct parent receives the payment.”
The minister highlighted that the applications can be made online from desktop and laptop computers as well as tablets and mobile phones.
He said a process was put in place to make payments by cheque if a parent or guardian did not have a bank account.
Mr Rabain added: “This Government is mindful that some parents may choose not to apply for the $150 relief.
“Some say I have finished purchasing school supplies, while others say we are not in need right now.
“Although this may be the case, the $150 can still be used later in the school year; their child may lose their brand-new school shoes or need a new sweater during the cooler months or a replacement gym uniform.
“The Government's financial support can cover these instances.”
He encouraged all eligible parents to apply for the funds before the deadline of October 31, 2022.
* Parents or guardians can send questions or requests for help with the application to email@example.com.