Within the past week, the United Progressive Party (UPP) has
received several calls from anxious citizens and residents who have found themselves in the frightening situation of no longer being able to put food on the table due to the unexpected decision to terminate their benefits under the People’s Benefit Programme.
These beneficiaries had previously been notified that they needed to apply for a new card since the existing one was due to expire on December 31st, 2017.
They did not anticipate that their applications would have been rejected.
In investigating the matter, UPP has learnt that the terminations have been attributed to one or both of the following factors:
1. Persons no longer satisfy the household income threshold – i.e. $800 or less per month; or
2. There is more than one beneficiary in a household.
The People’s Benefit Programme was designed and introduced by the UPP Administration.
There were two paths via which persons could qualify for enrolment – economic hardship and disability.
Economic hardship was defined as having a household income below $800. Persons applying via this route were subject to assessment by a broad-based committee including representatives from the nursing and teaching professions and the clergy.
The Committee was tasked with ascertaining whether applicants met the criteria.
The Board of Directors acknowledged that, by its nature, economic hardship could be a temporary condition. Therefore, such enrolment would be subject to review.
Further, since the criteria related to household income, there was a stipulation that there could only be one cardholder per household.
The cost of living in Antigua and Barbuda has increased significantly since the $800 threshold was established at the Programme’s inception.
The UPP, therefore, calls on the Government to reassess the situation with a view towards increasing the threshold to be more in keeping with the present-day cost of living.
Persons with Disability
The designers of the Programme were careful to provide the definition of disability to be applied in assessing eligibility. One of the considerations was the permanent nature of the disability.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer mandated that persons with disability should not be subjected to a means test – in other words, such persons qualified by virtue of their disability and not economic hardship as is the case for the first category of beneficiary.
Therefore, the one beneficiary per household rule simply does not apply to persons with disability.
The current Administration has either inadvertently or deliberately misinterpreted the provisions related to persons with disabilities. As a result of this misinterpretation, they have decreed that two disabled persons who live in the same household cannot both
participate in the programme.
The UPP categorically rejects this interpretation which we
hold to be discriminatory against the disabled community. We call on the Government to immediately and unconditionally rescind all such decisions and to reinstate all the affected beneficiaries.
Depoliticization of Social Benefit Under the UPP Administration, all applications were processed without any consideration
associated with partisan politics.
In this pre-election climate, we call on the Gaston Browne administration to eschew any appearance of partisanship in the administration of this Programme on which over two thousand citizens and residents have come to rely.
Our information is that over 400 persons were notified that their renewal applications have been declined. We have also been advised that the Prime Minister has issued instructions for them to be readmitted for a period of six months. We welcome the rescinding of the decision to deny the benefit.
However, in the interest of good governance and transparency, the UPP is calling for the following:
1. A re-examination and reversal of the current misinterpretation of the admission criteria for persons with disability; and
2. The appointment of a non-partisan working group to establish a new income threshold for enrolment in the Programme.
Progressive societies have an obligation to safeguard the interests of the most vulnerable members of society. We trust that the Government will respond favourably to this call to
fulfil that obligation.