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Rich bites into the safety net - Wealthy Jamaicans make up approximately 14 per cent of PATH beneficiaries

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Despite rigorous checking, the administrators of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), have still not been able to prevent the greedy from getting benefits under the programme.

Data in the latest edition of the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) reveal that millions of dollars of state funds earmarked for the poor under PATH is being pocketed by persons in the more affluent classes of the society.

PATH is the largest income-transfer programme within the Government's safety net in terms of budget and number of beneficiaries.

The JSLC 2010, published in December last year, revealed that approximately 14 per cent of the persons benefiting under the welfare programme are among the wealthiest in Jamaica.

"Beneficiaries in the wealthiest quintile have largely been found to be elderly persons, who often own durable goods and housing, but are unable to meet their basic needs adequately.

"There is also a significant proportion of child beneficiaries in the wealthiest quintile. Notwithstanding, the data confirm that a greater proportion of beneficiaries is from the poorest quintile, in comparison with the wealthiest quintile," read a section of the JSLC.

Based on per capita consumption levels, the JSLC, which is published jointly by the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, divides the population into five categories called Quintiles - with Quintile 1 being the poorest in the society and Quintile 5 the most affluent.

The latest edition of the JSLC conditions also noted that in 2010, PATH served some 340,000 persons, the large majority of whom were children.

Under the programme, cash benefits are transferred to each registered beneficiary in an eligible family every two months, with a payment cycle beginning annually in February.

"In 2010, the programme expended some $2.9 billion in cash transfers, reflecting an 18.4 per cent increase over the previous year.

"At the time of the survey, cash benefits ranged from $750 to $900 in the health category and up to $1,285 in the education category (per month, per beneficiary)," read another section of the JSLC 2010.

Efforts to get a comment from the permanent secretary and the chief technical director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security were unsuccessful.

However, a source within the ministry told our news team that there are several reasons persons from more affluent backgrounds end up on the PATH.

"The selection process is engined by a proxy-means test designed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. It looks for some factors that describe the family, number of persons, whether there are disabled persons in the family as well as if there are elderly persons in the family," the source explained.

Favourable factors

He continued: "These factors are very favourable. If you have a household with an elderly, a disabled person and children the proxy-means test will favour you even if your socio-economic status is not at the lowest quintile."

This is not the first time that concern is being raised about the PATH benefits going to persons who do not deserve it.

In September 2006, The Sunday Gleaner had pointed out that persons from the wealthiest sectors of the society were benefiting from PATH funds earmarked for the poor.

At that time, the Government had introduced a more sophisticated programme aimed at streamlining the distribution of benefits even though it admitted that it was unable to eliminate the practice of the greedy getting the money.

PATH was introduced in November 2001, amalgamating the much-abused food stamp and two other welfare programmes.

With its mandatory proxy test that should determine eligibility, PATH was expected to bring efficiency to the system of state assistance to the poor.

Back in 2006, 79.4 per cent of PATH beneficiaries were in the poorest two quintiles.

In 2010, the two poorest quintiles accounted for 67.1 per cent of the beneficiaries.

"Some two-thirds of PATH beneficiaries were from Quintiles 1 and 2 combined, signalling a marked improvement in targeting compared with previous transfer programmes," said the JSLC.

"However, the gradual decline in the proportion of beneficiaries from these two quintiles, evidenced in the last four survey reports, continues. The expansion in programme size, and adjustment to screening scores, may have contributed to this result," the 2010 report said.