Not an easy path
Nadisha Hunter, Gleaner Writer
Five children to fend for is a handful for any single mother.
For Karleen Park, it is even harder, as she is unemployed, and depends on any assistance she gets.
Park is on the government's Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), but that support, though welcome, provides only a drop in the bucket.
She told The Gleaner that when the programme was introduced in 2001, she was elated and her mind was set at ease.
"When I hear about the PATH, I was happy because nothing wasn't going on for me and I was really in need of some help," Park said.
But nine years later, the single parent who resides in Treadways, St Catherine, said she is disappointed with the benefits she receives as one of the less fortunate persons in society.
Not enough money
Park disclosed that the money for each child, which amounts to little more than $1,000 every two months, was not enough to fill the food basket for one month, much less two.
"I am still thankful for the little that I am getting, but I think the Government can do better to help us. When I get it and pay my rent with $4,000 for two months, the little I have can't buy enough food to serve, and I can't get any job to back it up," she lamented.
In addition to the money she gets in her hand, Park's children are provided with lunch by the government for four days of every week, but she said it is sometimes a challenge to provide them with lunch the other days.
"Sometimes, I have to let them stay home from school because I don't have anything for them to eat for breakfast, and I can't let them stay at school all day without eating," she added.
However, that decision could lead to more trouble, as the PATH benefits come with obligations that she must fulfil.
Children receiving the benefit must attend school at least 85 per cent of the time each month. If not, the family loses benefits.
The mother noted that, due to the level of absenteeism of her children in school, the payment for two of her children has been suspended.
"I am struggling to get my children back on the programme because now that it decrease, things are even worse," she said.
Approximately 325,000 persons now benefit from PATH, the government's major social safety net.
Under the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the Government has committed to a 25 per cent expansion of its social safety net spending, aimed at protecting the most vulnerable citizens.
This provision should result in an expansion of coverage under PATH, with the number of beneficiaries increasing to 360,000.
The national school feeding programme is also to be expanded.
'I am struggling to get my children back on the programme because now that it decrease, things are even worse.'