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Financial assistance to be provided on a need by need basis

Minister Delma Thomas - hundreds of families have received psychosocial support

Faced with a period where less revenue is coming into government’s coffers, Social Development Minister, Delma Thomas has announced that the promised financial assistance for families who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID pandemic will be done through a “phased approach.”

The financial commitment was made by Finance Minister Gregory Bowen in presenting the 2021 budget in December.

Speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister Thomas said that very soon, government will launch the programme that will provide financial assistance to those families who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

“…I cannot say how much monies (will be allocated today) because we are at a period when government is collecting less revenue (and) all of our programmes within the Ministry is done on a phased approach and so, we will be working along with the Ministry of Finance to provide assistance,” she told reporters.

“More details of the launch will come in short order but as a government, we are trying to balance with the revenue that we are collecting,” she added.

However, the senior government minister disclosed that “assistance would be provided on a need by need basis (and) as we (government) have the revenue.”

The female Minister stressed that “this is no easy period” and pointed out that people have been finding it “difficult to cope,” and that the team at the Psychosocial and Gender Based Unit within her ministry has been working “24 hours on a shift basis” to provide the required psychosocial support for families during this COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the team has even had to “reach out to families in terms of providing hampers and other (forms of) assistance,” with the help of the “private sector who have assisted the Ministry with hamper assistance and other assistance.”

“It’s a challenging period and there is so much hurt, pain and suffering and so, as a Ministry we are committed to continue working to assist families.

“One would agree that they are hurting out there, a number of families are losing their jobs because of the pandemic and because of where they worked and so as a Ministry, we not only have to provide psychosocial support but we also have to look at alternative avenues to assist families so that they can survive in this period, take care of their children and do the necessary things for survival at this time.

According to Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Development, Chrissie Worme-Charles, some funds had to be “re-directed” to the Psychosocial Unit in terms of “building their capacity” for the usage of equipment such as ICT equipment “so that they can spread the reach of persons.”

“Some of our funds for certain projects, we had to repurpose it because we recognised that our psychosocial unit where a lot of the needs really surface, they did not have much equipment to work with,” she said.

Worme-Charles pointed to a demand for the services offered by the Unit from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

“Our challenge did not change; it escalated. There is now a greater demand for our programmes,” she explained, adding that the programmes include counseling and financial assistance through the Support for Education Empowerment and Development Programme.

The Keith Mitchell-led government has enforced the Escape Clause and Section 8 (3) (f) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act as a temporary measure to deal with the negative economic impact of Covid-19 and has also sought “Repurposing No objection” approvals from funding agencies whose projects had received funding but halted as a result of the implications of the virus.

Section 10 of the legislation provides for the Minister of Finance by Order to suspend, for a period not exceeding one fiscal year fiscal rules, targets and corrective measures under sections 7 and 8, where a natural disaster, public health epidemic, or war as a result of which a state of emergency Receipts and expenditures excluded from fiscal rules and targets.

According to Minister Thomas, letters have been sent out by government to the funding agencies for approval.

“We had to write to the funding agencies to get the necessary approval for us to redirect the use of funds. We received some monies from the Spotlight Initiative…but there were some monies that could have been used to purchase protective equipment that we used to purchase PPEs and other equipment, and so, the Ministry could have purchased together with the funding agency and presented it to Ministry of Health and others,” she said.

The Spotlight Initiative is a United Nations-funded 2 million Euro project which among other things, is expected to contribute to the achievement of gender equality, peace, social inclusion and protection of human rights, which are catalytic particularly for Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 16 and inclusive growth, in accordance with Agenda 2030 and the priority areas of the United Nations Multi-Country Sustainable Development Framework, and Grenada’s Gender Equality Policy and Action Plan (GEPAP).

Pointing to “our neighbouring islands (which) are currently dealing with outbreaks in which hundreds of persons are receiving positive Covid-19 results,” the Social Development Minister used the opportunity to caution citizens to remain “vigilant” and “smart” by doing “things that will protect ourselves and our family.”