MPs approve extra $10m for financial assistance
An Opposition politician today accused Government of "total, blatant ineptitude" after MPs were asked to approve a near $10 million overspend for the Department of Financial Assistance.
Shadow Public Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin questioned how the Department's budget for the financial year 2010/11 could have been so underestimated.
"If we don't take care in the budgeting process, we will find that the people of Bermuda will end up having to dig deeper into their pockets each time to fund a runaway government," she told the House of Assembly.
Youth, Sports, Families and Community Development Minister Glenn Blakeney asked for the supplementary estimate of $9.9 million to be approved.
He told the House of Assembly the Department had seen an increase in demand for financial aid, with the annual number of applicants rising over the past six years from 650 to about 1,600.
He said the overspend in this fiscal year was due to several factors including:
* requests for help with health bills from former patients of the indigent clinic;
* the introduction of a childcare allowance for low-income parents;
* help to seniors to pay for the FutureCare health insurance scheme; and
* greater demand for financial help due to the recession.
He said the Department was obliged in law to help those Bermudians who needed the childcare allowance and financial assistance.
Mr Blakeney said his Ministry would amend legislation this year to tighten up the eligibility requirements for both types of aid.
MPs from both opposition parties were highly critical of the overspend and asked why it didn't appear in the revised total for the Department in the Government's latest Budget.
Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Swan said: "The actual amount is astonishing."
Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said: "You are slipping some extra in through the crack of the door but for $10 million to get through the crack in the door, you have to jar that door open pretty wide."
Environment Minister Walter Roban accused those objecting of insensitivity to the needs of Bermudians during the financial crisis.
"This is real money going to real families to provide real support," he said.
The supplementary estimate was eventually approved by the house in a verbal vote, with no audible objections.