Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Spare PATH beneficiaries red tape

Published:Monday | August 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It is rather inconsiderate that people who are on PATH (the Programme for Advancement through Health and Education) have to reapply every four years to continue receiving financial support from the Government. Failure to do so, according to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), "will be interpreted as a voluntary withdrawal" from the programme.

PATH is a conditional cash-transfer programme that was set up in 2001. It is one of the main social-protection initiatives offered by the Government to assist poor and vulnerable Jamaicans. "The programme offers an array of benefits to children from birth to completion of secondary school; senior citizens 60 years and over, who are not in receipt of a pension; persons with disabilities; pregnant and lactating women; and poor adults between the ages of 18 and 59 years, who are duly registered." (JIS)

It takes a lot of time, energy and money to get an application complete, and I worry that reapplication will be just as daunting. To qualify for PATH, an individual must submit an application. The process includes completing a proxy means test, providing information about your family for the electronic Beneficiary Identification System (BIS), and doing an interview. After this is completed and you are deemed eligible, you are 'selected' to be a beneficiary.

Payments, however, hinge on the completion of a home visit, which, I hear, in some cases, can take a while because of the limited number of social workers/field officers in some parishes. Unlike Poor Relief, they are not mandated to initiate the verification within 24 hours, and PATH does not provide temporary assistance until it is complete.

Reapplication every four years, therefore, does not seem very rational.

What guided the decision to have people reapply every four years? Who thought it would be a good idea? Have the decision-makers considered the challenges people experience in submitting an application that might deter some of them from doing so? What kind of follow-up will be done with people who do not make a submission (on time) before they are considered to have voluntarily withdrawn from it?

Do people even know that they have to reapply every four years? What kind of support will be provided to persons by the already overburdened social workers/field officers? Will reapplication be a process that is far less arduous?

 

MANY EXCITED ABOUT THE POLICY

 

I know many of us are excited about this policy decision because we are opposed to the Government taking any sort of responsibility to provide for the poor and vulnerable. We abhor the handouts they give to those who are most in need, and we have no problem with the concessions and benefits they dole out to those of us well above the poverty line.

Consequently, we wallow in our narrow-mindedness, thinking that this is critical to encouraging people to becoming financially independent rather than living off handouts.

Social-protection services are hugely important to the efforts to move Jamaicans from poverty to prosperity. According to the World Bank, "Social-protection systems help the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks, find jobs, invest in the health and education of their children, and protect the ageing population."

Truthfully, if proper/adequate case management is being done, there is hardly a need for someone to reapply. This will be at a huge cost to the household worker in Southfield, St Elizabeth, for example, whose financial has worsened because of inflation, low wages, and access to fewer jobs. She will have to find more than $1,000 to travel from her home in Southfield to get to Junction, where she will have to get another passenger transport to Gutters to get to Santa Cruz, where the PATH office is located.

She will also lose a day's income, since it will more than likely take an entire day to get everything sorted out. Hopefully, she will not have to wait on a home visit before she can continue receiving the little support for her two children to go to school.

It is critical that social-protection services are accessible, "well-designed and implemented" so they can, as the World Bank argues, "enhance human capital and productivity, reduce inequalities, build resilience and end intergenerational cycle of poverty".

The Government should provide more information on the proposal and demonstrate how it will benefit the poor and vulnerable, who continue to be in desperate need for this assistance.

- Jaevion Nelson is an advocate for human rights and social and economic justice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com, or tweet @jaevionn.