Sun | Jul 12, 2020

Run on post offices sparks pension cash crunch

Published:Tuesday | April 7, 2020 | 12:31 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security said that it is working with Jamaica Post to ease a cash-flow shortage at a number of post offices across Jamaica.

The problem has been attributed to pensioners, some of whom would accumulate their benefits cheques, triggering a run on the reserves of the postal services.

Permanent secretary in the ministry, Colette Roberts Risden, told The Gleaner that information reaching her office was that some pensioners who used to save cheques for up to three months are no longer waiting to do so. Instead, in an effort reduce time spent in public spaces, seniors have opted to cash in everything, leaving post office piggy banks squealing .

“Whereas before the post office would expect, for example, let’s say $200,000 in disbursements on any given day, which is what they would have on hand, we now have more people cashing three months worth of vouchers and creating a higher-than-usual demand for cash,” the permanent secretary explained.

As a result, the postmaster general is now in dialogue with banks to arrange for the transfer of cash on a timely basis to offset the upsurge in demand. However, the permanent secretary disclosed that the authorities were also aware of the security risks associated with leaving too much cash in-house at post offices nationwide.

“It’s a risk that they are trying to manage, not wanting to leave too much cash overnight for thieves to then go and break in,” Roberts Risden added.

Meanwhile, Roberts Risden disclosed that 30 per cent, or 34,778 of the island’s 116,000 pensioners, were now receiving their pension cheques by direct deposit, with the money going straight to their accounts. The majority of pensions with direct transfers migrated to the system since 2017.

In January 2020, notices were sent out to 26,000 pre-existing pensioners advising them to fill out direct-deposit applications, with a little over 3,000 taking up the offer so far.

“Those persons who got notification in January, their new (pension) book is going to be due in July,” said Roberts Risden. “So these are the people who we are trying to get to comply by, say, May, so that they can get their pensions going into their bank accounts by July.”

People’s National Party Labour and Social Security Spokesperson Horace Dalley yesterday urged the Government to immediately fix cash-flow problems at the nation’s post offices.

This, Dalley said, has forced many of senior citizens to leave their homes on numerous occasions to try to get the much-needed cash, only to be told that post offices are out of funds.

“You cannot tell our pensioners that they are allowed to cash two sets of vouchers when you have provided no adequate funding for this to happen. This is unacceptable,” he said in a press statement issued yesterday evening.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com