Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin traveled to Grand Bahama recently to launch the Department of Social Services Food Assistance Programme Prepaid Card.
Hundreds attended the launch ceremony held at Eight Mile Rock High School (EMRHS) Gymnasium, which introduced Food Assistance Beneficiaries to the advantages of having a prepaid card.
"The long anticipated day is finally here, as the Department of Social Services commences the first training and issuance of prepaid cards for approved beneficiaries of the Food Assistance Programme in Grand Bahama.
" In November 2014, a new and modern payment method, a reloadable prepaid card, was introduced for Food Assistance Beneficiaries by the Department of Social Services of my Ministry and in so doing The Bahamas joined several countries around the world in the use of electronics for the delivery of assistance.
" We began the process at the Wulff Road Centre, two months later on Monday January 26, 2015. The new method was then launched at the Fox Hill Centre, which was followed by the Robinson Road Centre on Monday, March 23, the Horseshoe Drive Centre on May 18 and it is now Grand Bahama's time.
" We have come to provide for and issue cards to 978 food assistance recipients, 848 who are clients of the Eight Mile Rock Office and 130 clients of the Freeport Office, all of whom have been eligibly certified for the use of the card for food assistance.
With the newly introduced card, Food Assistance Beneficiaries no longer have to contend with long lines at the end of each month to collect coupons. Grocery purchases are not limited to a particular food store. The prepaid card can be used at any wholesale or retail store that accepts it and the full value does not have to be utilized all at once, which allows for food purchases to be spread out within the month.
Additionally, the prepaid card provides a level of privacy that had not been readily available before due to the oversized food coupon, which helped others to identify exactly who receives Social Services assistance.
" Essentially, the prepaid card eliminates stigmatization and restores dignity to food assistance recipients.
" I must caution however, that there are some restrictions with the utilization of the card as its purpose is to ensure that persons have access to food, hence the card can only be used at food stores and I can assure you that it will not work at any other establishment.
" Some clients in New Providence have tried several times to use the card at other places without success so I urge you all to please be aware that we receive weekly reports on the usage of the card and if you try to use the card at any place other than a food store, not only do we know who you are, we also know where you attempted to use the card and the amount you tried to spend.
" My advice to you therefore, is to use it wisely for its intended purpose only, which is to provide food for you and your family.
" The Bank of The Bahamas (BOB) is partnering with the government on this initiative.
" Also, you would be aware that as of January 2015, there was an increase in the food assistance rates as the government, being cognizant that the payment of VAT on food items would impact the purchasing power of beneficiaries on the Food Assistance Program, made the decision to increase the rate of assistance by five percent to counteract this so I trust that you have found the increase helpful," said Minister Griffin.
It is necessary for all recipients on the Food Assistance Programme to be reassessed and approved for the new payment method, the Social Services minister revealed.
She assured the persons who did not receive cards during the initial launch exercise that the process is not complete and will continue until all food assistance recipients have been reassessed and verified and those deemed eligible, will in due course receive their prepaid cards, Minister Griffin stated.
Locating all of the 1,272 food assistance recipients of the Eight Mile Rock office was not an easy task and presented tremendous demands on the staff of the Social Services lamented the minister.
" In light of this, I wish to commend Deputy Director Quant Forbes and Assistant Director Marshall, the two most senior officers and Mrs. Brennamae Rolle-Cooper, Senior Welfare Officer with responsibility for the Eight Mile Rock Office, the staff of the Eight Mile Rock office, as well as the officers from the other areas of the department and the Social Services Urban Renewal component, who assisted working after hours, weekends and even on public holidays, to get us where we are today.
" As I indicated while the exercise in Eight Mile Rock is virtually completed, it is still in progress for clients of the Freeport Office, where 1,888 clients have to be assessed and verified.
" Gradually persons will be added to the new method and I fully expect that a good number will be added at the end of August, 2015. Hence, our staff will do the utmost to complete the exercise as soon as possible so that all eligible recipients are placed on the new system.
" However, a few specified persons deemed ineligible for the card will continue for a short period on the paper coupon.
" I can advise that just as we found in New Providence, we found some abuses of the system here in Grand Bahama and some persons, who really do not qualify for the assistance have had to be terminated.
" In such cases however, there is an appeals process and it is there for anyone who wishes to query their termination from the program," said Griffin.
Reminding all that it was a long, hard road getting to this point, the minister said that with the addition of each center in New Providence, the Department of Social Services has gained more experience and improved the processes involved.
Published Tuesday, August 4, 2015