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New rules to require financial aid recipients to do community work

Able-bodied people who have not found employment after three months on financial assistance would be required to do up to 15 hours of community service weekly under new rules approved by MPs last night.

The change is part of a planned overhaul of the financial assistance system, weighed down by soaring costs as numbers of people applying for aid had increased every quarter over the last two years on an “unsustainable trajectory”, Community Development Minister Wayne Scott told MPs.

Amendments to financial assistance rules approved in the House of Assembly also include requiring recipients to attend specified life skills programmes, such as money management courses or parenting skills courses.

And case workers will also be empowered to refer clients to the Bermuda Assessment and Referral Centre for drug abuse assessment if deemed necessary.

Government spent $10.75 million on financial assistance and child day care allowance combined in the final quarter of the last fiscal year, ending on March 31 — a record high, the Minister said.

Child care allowance figures were not separately provided.

Mr Scott said doing community service would help the unemployed maintain a sense of dignity, as they contributed to society in exchange for taxpayer assistance, and would also expand their networking opportunities.

He added the amendments were part of a “social recovery movement” — a network of initiatives which would see an overhaul of the financial assistance regime, and community-based organisations partnering with Government to address social needs.

He said Department of Financial Assistance case workers now have an average caseload of more than 200 clients each.

In the first quarter of 2011-12, the number of “able-bodied unemployed” applicants for financial assistance was 86 but in the fourth quarter 132 applied for assistance.

Over the same period, the number of “earnings low” applicants increased from 70 to 128.

A year later, the figures were showing significant increases with 115 able-bodied unemployed applying for financial assistance in the first quarter of 2012-13 and 195 making applications in the final quarter, while the “earnings low” applicants went from 118 to 136. With seniors and disabled included, a total of 498 people applied for financial assistance in the last quarter of 2012-13, the Minister reported.

At question time the Minister said the proportion of financial assistance clients who were seniors and disabled had gone down from 50 percent to 30 percent.

“These figures underscore a disturbing and unsustainable trend of social need in our community. What is required is not only an economic recovery and jobs, but a movement towards a social recovery,” the Minister said.

“ I will also point out that the face of the unemployed has changed due to the economic situation and everyone will not need the same type of help, and we will be relying on the expertise of the department staff to assess each individual accordingly.

“Similarly, we are proposing to empower the director of financial assistance, based on a report from a financial assistance manager or case worker, to require a child day care allowance recipient to attend parenting classes offered under the Child Development Programme of the Ministry of Education.”

He said: “The intent of these changes is to offer more help in the first instance, and to foster more accountability and responsibility on the part of persons who receive financial assistance and child day care allowance benefits.”

Government is also set to launch its first “community-driven development” initiative project, a new day care facility which would see unemployed and underemployed mothers on financial assistance trained to administer it.

“While this example of a community-driven development project was born out of the Bermuda women’s council, similar opportunities are likewise needed for our men, and these will be addressed,” the Minister said.

“The proposed day care facility will be run by fully trained and qualified professionals and the intention is that it will be a training facility for persons wishing to get involved in every aspect of running a day care facility. A potential location for the day care facility has been identified and the curriculum is under development.”

Community Development Minister

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Published June 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm)

New rules to require financial aid recipients to do community work

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