by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – In an update on the Poverty Alleviation Program (PAP), the Social Development Minister, Hon. Isalean Phillip, has shared that the $28 million allotted for the program has already been exceeded.
“We recognise that there are a number of persons who would have submitted eligible applications that are still pending. The reality is that we have a limited number of resources, and we’re really seeking to see what we can share those resources around. Which is why we actually, within the Ministry, had considered the aspects of reevaluation and graduation and transitioning persons off the program so that we can actually assist with bringing persons who have not received any sort of benefits so that they can receive. The reality is every month; we’ve actually been seeking to add more persons.”
Minister Phillip continued, “We’ve actually already exceeded what would have been the budgeted allotment because of the fact that we have actually recognised that the need is great. And so we’ve really been seeking and trying to add persons who have submitted an application that’s eligible and see how we can allow them to benefit as well. So we continue to work, but of course, we are limited in the fact that we do also have to manage the limited resources that we have at this time for this, which is why we actually try to direct persons to other forms of assistance. Perhaps you can’t be on the PAP at this time, but we can offer you some other form of assistance through food voucher assistance. And so that is kind of what the balance that we’re having to make in social services in terms of sharing what we have with the number of people that we have in need who are expressing that.”
Azilla Clarke, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Development, reported that as of June 2023, 5,361 households received payments from the cash assistance program.
The Ministry received 11,639 applications since the relaunch and is still reconciling possible duplicate applications. The program is a per-household program, and Social Development ensures that multiple people from one household have not applied. Of the total number of applications received, 9,094 were completed; 8,985 were considered eligible.
Changes in the program included enforcing the primary eligibility criteria of a single household with an income of $3,000 or less, an application process, and prioritised groups (individuals with disabilities, seniors, unemployed, employed with children). As part of the application process, anyone who is overpaid agrees upon signing to repay the funds to the government, the introduction of case management and graduation from the cash assistance program to financial independence.
The reason for the changes stemmed from the criticism in social discourse about the PAP as an unsustainable program with a lack of structure and assisting in creating a culture of heavy dependence on the government.
The government hopes the changes will lead to more independent people by providing the people on the program not just financial assistance but development assistance that would lead to individuals acquiring higher paying jobs, creating small businesses, etc.
Food Voucher Program is the alternative program for those who may not have met the criteria for the PAP at the time of their application.
Senator Isalean Phillip, Minister of Social Development & Gender Affairs; Youth Empowerment, Ageing & Disabilities, commented on the eligible applicants who are not beneficiaries of the program.
“Since we would have started the program, we’ve actually already exceeded that budget allotment because of the fact that we have recognised that there were more people who are in need, we’ve heard the cries, and of course, we are certainly responsive government. And so we really try to make sure that we respond to those concerns, and so to this point, we’ve exceeded the allotted amount. I can’t say the exact figures at this point in time, but I think we’re probably going up to at least, you know, a third of $100 million, you know, could potentially be, but we certainly have exceeded $28 million in spending on PAP to this point.”
Permanent Secretary Clarke shared that one of the PAP’s ongoing struggles is verifying participants’ finances and identifying duplications. Still, the Ministry is working on sorting out those issues.
“That continues to be our greatest struggle, the verification of earnings and the duplicity in households and the reluctance from persons… PAP is designed for a particular type of person – a type of beneficiary – and let us support those who qualify. Let us devise other programs and activities that can function for you. So that we can all contribute towards the development of St. Kitts and Nevis, but honesty is key; I know we have this sense of scarcity. “If I give up PAP, I [won’t] get [anything] else”. We’re trying to make it so that the system functions for all. Your need may be educational; as you stated, your major expense comes around schooltime, preparing them to come to school -School uniforms, books, [and] all of that. We have services and partners who can assist with that.”
PS Clarke continued, “ It might be medical, might be unemployment, you might be starting your business. We did a session with some of the PAP recipients with an outreach to small businesses (SBDC) to be able to have that… I know it’s tough for [people] to trust because you don’t know me personally; you’ve probably had a bad interaction with social services before. But please know that we are in earnest trying our very hardest to be able to support you in your dreams and aspirations.”
The Poverty Alleviation Program is one of the Federation’s most discussed social assistance programs. Even with the changes to the program, which have led to tightening up procedures, the program is still a need to keep people in the Federation out of abject poverty.