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Comforting signs to be found in Financial Assistance

Some may have thought, when I announced in the House of Assembly a drop of more than $1 million in the Financial Assistance budget for the coming year, that the One Bermuda Alliance was cutting spending in one of the very areas that needs funding the most.

I am happy to reassure them that this is not the case. Those seniors and disabled people on our books, as well as our able-bodied people whose earning power is low, will not be deprived of the assistance they need.

In my March 6 speech on the budget for the Ministry of Social Development and Sport, I explained that half of the spending cut comes from savings in staff salaries, while the other half comes mainly from two grants that have been transferred to the Ministry of Health and Seniors budget. For us, those are windfall savings, not cuts. I am also happy to say that if you compare the ministry’s 2017-18 budget with recent budgets, you can find some signs of good news for the community.

From 2000-01 to 2015-16, the amount spent on Financial Assistance went from a little less than $15 million to $54.56 million — that’s an indicator of serious economic dislocation across the community, but also a measure of government commitment to make sure people hurt by tough times get the support they need.

Since then, demand for the amount spent on Financial Assistance has fallen — admittedly only slightly and unevenly — to $54.56 million in the 2016-17 Budget and to an estimated $53.56 million this coming fiscal year. I hope we can see this as a sign that the impact of bad times has crested.

Another fact is that the Ministry of Social Development and Sport did not request more money to cover greater-than-expected demand last year, and that we will not be submitting a supplementary this year. These may be further indications that the situation has stopped growing. Economic recovery has proved to be a tough challenge to overcome, but I am very confident that the work of my colleagues will bring recovery to more and more families. Recovery is happening. But until it reaches into every household, I see it as my responsibility to make sure people in need get the support they need.

On a personal note, this is my first Cabinet portfolio. I am determined to do my best for the people we serve and for my colleagues.

Yes, it’s a big jump from the back bench to the front bench, but I am heartened by being in position to speak to the issues that come before the Cabinet as a young black Bermudian and a mother.

That means making sure people get the care they need while building a future that is going to support their needs and their dreams.

Nandi Outerbridge is the Minister of Social Development and Sport, and the MP for St George’s West (Constituency 2)