Financial assistance funding cut by $1m
The Department of Financial Assistance will have its budget trimmed by just over $1 million in the coming fiscal year, to $53.555 million for 2017-18.
Nandi Outerbridge, the Minister of Social Development and Sport, also updated MPs yesterday on the performance of the department's fraud hotline, which took more than 60 calls in 2016-17.
Some 85 per cent were investigated, with 34 cases confirmed as fraud and nine calls still under investigation. Officers of the department recovered $62,000, versus $98,000 retrieved in 2015-16. The hotline, at 297-7867, was set up in January 2014.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army will have its grant doubled to $800,000 in anticipation of the proposed redevelopment of the old school facility at Bishop Spencer.
Earlier, the House heard from Craig Cannonier, the Minister of Public Works, that renovating the present emergency housing risked bringing down the building, which has been in service for considerably longer than originally anticipated and has fallen into disrepair.
Funding for Summerhaven, and the Matilda Smith Williams and Packwood nursing homes, has been transferred to the Ministry of Health and Seniors.
The majority of financial assistance clients remain the elderly and disabled, Mrs Outerbridge said, and by the close of December 2016 there were 969 senior recipients, up by 66 from the previous year. The department spends just over $2 million a month on elderly clients.
There were 848 disabled clients being assisted as of December 2016, up by 23 from the previous year, receiving $1.43 million. Payments to the able-bodied unemployed and low-income clients averaged $918 per month for the last quarter of 2016, compared with $1.045 million for the same period in 2015.
Total numbers of clients wavered between a low of 2,551 and a high of 2,679 — a trend expected to hold through 2017-18.
Staff at the department are currently responsible for 230 clients per case worker, the minister said — substantially more than the roughly 125 cases previously.
Shadow Minister Michael Weeks was highly critical of the budget reduction, which he called “one thing that this government has kept consistent”.