Moving to dispel what she termed the “many misconceptions” about Government’s Financial Assistance programme and the “population it serves”, Health Minister Kim Wilson told MPs today that the “most Financial Assistance recipients are seniors, disabled persons and child day care recipients”.
“Only 26 percent are able-bodied adults,”
In fact, she said, as of January 2019, there were 3,268 recipients in total, as follows:
  • 1,184 Pensioners/Seniors
  • 896 Persons with disabilities
  • 214 Abled-bodies unemployed
  • 362 Persons with low earnings
  • 612 Child day care allowance
Providing an update on the Ministry’s plans moving forward, the Minister noted that since the Financial Assistance Reform Group was formed last year, members have “worked diligently and produced a final set of recommendations detailed in their Financial Assistance Reform Group Recommendations Report”.
Those recommendations were subsequently reviewed when the Department of Financial Assistance was moved to the Ministry of Health and “Cabinet has accepted a number of them, which will pave the way to reform the programme”.
The Report has also been published on the Governent website, along with details of the recommendations that will drive the reforms.
In a Ministerial Statement issued this morning, the Minister added: “Financial Assistance is committed to making work pay and its award structure provides a foundation for this, as persons do not lose all benefits if they find some employment. More work is being done to advance this policy to help get more people back to work.
“When the Reform Group was first established, its intended purpose was to reduce abuse, discourage dependency and ensure that work pays. These are important goals, however, in light of the profile of the persons in need of such assistance, and the type of supports granted, it has become clear that the focus of reform should be on making the programme financially sustainable, improving efficiency and ensuring a more equitable allocation of awards,
“Our decisions have been guided by the Internal Audit report completed subsequent to the Reform Group’s conclusion. There were a number of overlaps between the two, but together, and in light of the appointment of a new Director of Financial Assistance, we have been able to have a more focused and targeted approach to achieve the most impactful reforms,” Ms Wilson said.
“The Internal Audit report recommendations are being acted on immediately to bring urgent essential improvements as soon as possible over the next 12 to 18 months. These have already begun and will reduce waste, control budgets and improve service to recipients and applicants.
“For example: A working committee has been set up to improve the current database system and use technology to improve efficiency in the future.
“Customer service training is being sourced to commence before summer.  We want all of our workers to have a courteous, sensitive and professional approach towards our clients and their needs.
“A new intake process is being implemented. The department has reviewed their ‘pre-screening’ process and the new system should reduce the time that clients will have to sit for their initial interview.  Further, a 30 day window has been implemented so that clients will receive a response in a timely manner.
“Job Search sheets have been replaced with mandatory usage of the Bermuda Job Board. Clients are expected to visit the Department of Workforce Development, meet with a Career Development Officer, have their resumes updated, participate in skills testing and search for employment opportunities on the Job Board.  Evidence of this activity must be submitted to the Department of Financial Assistance to qualify for a financial award.
“In addition to these operational improvements, we will be strategically focused on ensuring a more equitable allocation of awards and achieving financial sustainability of the programme. In this regard, a fundamental reform we will undertake is to change the formula that is used to determine eligibility and awards. Specifically, we will amend the legislated formula to establish awards so that eligibility is based on measures associated with the ‘low income threshold’ calculated by the Department of Statistics, rather than the current (allowable) Expenses – (qualifying) Income = (FA) Award.
“Further, as Minister of Health, I want us to see changes that will discourage the purchase of non-nutritive food and beverages, as is currently done with tobacco and alcohol. And I would like to find ways for the Government to recover debt and/or off-set the cost of benefits through the property of deceased financial assistance recipients. As a country we can no longer afford for the state to subsidize persons’ inheritances, as currently happens.”
While noting that the Financial Assistance programme is vital to the community, the Minister added: “It is the only form of welfare available to assist the vulnerable, frail and infirm, and the only means to prevent families from descending into poverty. However, funds are finite and we have to make sure that we use them efficiently and they reach the right people. We expect that the reforms under way will change the face of the programme to achieve financial sustainability and a more equitable allocation of awards.”