Billions for PATH but poor want more
More than $23.5 billion was paid out to Jamaican families registered with the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) between 2014 and 2019.
Benefits are provided under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
In the 2018-2019 financial year, more than $5.37 billion was disbursed to more than 130,000 families, or 340,000 beneficiaries, compared to $4.14 billion in 2014-2015.
The highest sum, $773 million, was disbursed to eligible family members who reside in St Catherine followed by Clarendon, with $690 million; St Andrew, $646 million; and St Elizabeth, with $443 million.
Kingston registered the lowest amount for disbursement with $205 million and Hanover with $233 million.
The primary beneficiaries of PATH are school-age children.
The Government has allocated $5,575,630,000 to PATH beneficiary assistance for the financial year 2020 to 2021.
For the year 2019 to 2020, the revised estimate was $5,300,630,000.
Principal of Haile Selassie High School, Lorenzo Ellis told The Gleaner that of the school’s 1,033 students, 492 are PATH beneficiaries.
Students who matriculate from primary to high school are required to submit a letter of referral in order to be added to the school’s listing and continue to receive benefits. In schools, the benefit is the provision of a cooked meal for lunch for the five-day school week.
Ellis explained that 407 students were already enrolled on entry to the institution while 85 were recommended to the programme and later registered.
“We have to do a monthly update of the list because they expect that there’s at least a 90 per cent attendance for them to continue to be on the list. The canteen does a daily check of the number of students who actually take up the lunch, and we have a welfare system in addition to PATH,” the principal of the Kingston 11 school said.
The school has a number of needy students who are not registered on PATH.
Students who benefit from the school’s welfare programme are identified by form teachers or guidance counsellors. Ellis explained that it started out as a three-day meal provision but demands have increased it to five days. Sixty students are on the welfare list.
Principal of Minto Primary School, Udell Dawkins, said that the provision of lunch assists students who are primarily from an area where unemployment is high.
“We are a small school, so we are able to stretch the money. The lower-school students receive $120 per day, and for upper, it’s $150. In our area, we have quite a number of stakeholders who assist us. (Recently), we got eight bags of rice, and we got things from Food For the Poor,” Dawkins said.
The St Thomas-based multigrade school has a population of 50, and 14 of the students are on PATH. Of note, the school also has a welfare programme.
LOST IN THE SYSTEM
Penlyne Castle Primary, also in the parish, has 37 students, with 15 registered on PATH. Principal Veronica Watson explained that some students come to the school registered on the programme but somehow “get lost in the system” and do not receive benefits until grade two or three.
“We have more than 50 per cent of our students on the PATH programme, and we have just under 900 students,” said Mark Malabver, who has been principal of Yallahs High School since 2016.
Malabver said as it is now, the PATH programme is “woefully inadequate”, given the amount that is provided to feed each student.
“It is often finished before the end of the term, sometimes up to six to eight weeks before, and sometimes we have to turn our hands and make fashion,” he lamented.
In an effort to continue feeding the students, the principal said he began soliciting $20 contributions from students, but he was instructed by the Ministry of Education to discontinue the practice.
At the school, the unit cost for a meal is $250, and according to the principal, “The ministry pays far less than that for each student. Because of the amount of students who are on the PATH programme, my canteen literally can’t make anything. It is not making anything of significance. Oftentimes, we have to rely on the tuck shop to really carry certain programmes in the school,” Malabver, who is also the People’s National Party prospective candidate for St Thomas Western, explained.
“Many parents don’t have a steady job. They are coming from single-parent families, so they really come from the lower socio-economic section of society, and that is the crux of the matter, but the funding, notwithstanding, all the grand announcements about PATH, the funding is woefully inadequate.”
A source close to a high school in west Kingston told The Gleaner that a third of the school’s population are beneficiaries of the programme.
“The programme facilitates parents and students who are living in abject poverty and a number of them who are on the welfare programme [that] the school has are unable to get on PATH because they have a fridge or a stove in their house,” the source said.
The source added: “The meal they get at school is probably the only one that is properly provided for them.”
Brown’s Town High School, based in St Ann, has a cohort of 1,767 students, 747 of whom are on PATH, according to principal Alfred Thomas.
“We’re a non-traditional high school, and the reality is, you normally have a large percentage of students on PATH in non-traditional high schools. I don’t know the rationale, but that’s normally the case, and there are some schools which have higher percentages than ours. In the past, ours was as high as 60 per cent,” Thomas said.
In the predominantly farming community of Pennants, Clarendon, sits John Austin All-Age School, which provides education to students in grades one to six.
Principal Ainsworth Williams said 132 students attend the school and two-thirds are on PATH.
Williams explained that the school’s canteen was never set up to make a profit.
“It is there to serve the students, and we have donations from persons - one Miss Ferron who lives overseas. She’s the main person who donates towards our breakfast programme and the student contribution of $20 and other donors offset the programme,” he said.
NOT TURNING UP
Principal of Ascot Primary School in St Catherine, Mark Jackson, told The Gleaner that there are 101 registered students on PATH. The school’s population is 1,130.
“They used to get lunch three days per week. Now, they get it five days per week. I realised that though the record shows 101, there are students who really don’t make themselves available for the lunches, and there are students who still can’t access the lunch because of their parents’ inability to find fare to send them to school,” Jackson explained.
The principal also revealed that there are students who turn up at school claiming that they are on the programme without an official document to substantiate their request. Those students, he said, are assisted with lunch under the school’s welfare programme. He said migration may be the reason for this occurrence.
“They were [living] at one place on the programme, they come to the school, and a different person would have taken the child on, in terms of parenting or being guardian, and the necessary transfer wasn’t done,” he said.
Jackson commended the Government for its provisions but said that from his observations at Ascot, there are some discrepancies.
“Some parents who can manage, their children are on it, and some who definitely can’t manage, they said they would have visited the PATH office several times and they just cannot be approved,” Jackson said.
Old Harbour High School’s population is 2,446, and just over 900 students are on PATH while at Titchfield High School in Portland, 560 of the 1,510 students are PATH registered.