Government members have pledged to consider opposition party proposals to increase welfare benefits for the poor and make it easier for small contractors to tender for government projects.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush brought the motions during a Finance Committee meeting Monday. Both received the unanimous support of legislators present.
The first motion called for government to increase the benefit paid to the elderly and indigent, as well as seamen and veterans, by at least $100 per month, up from the present rate of $550 per month.
‘What is evident is the current financial assistance is not meeting the current economy that we have to live in,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘It’s certainly not enough.’
Minister of Health and Human Services Anthony Eden accepted that more needed to be done for people currently on the benefit, and said government would consider a $50 per month increase.
The motion comes just over a month after the People’s Progressive Movement Government raised the benefit from $500 to $550.
‘I’ll talk to my colleagues and I am certain they will consider it,’ Mr. Eden said.
Mr. Bush asked that the additional funding be moved away from other government spending proposals in the 2008/09 budget, which is being debated in Finance Committee meetings.
‘I see us doing all kinds of things these days – I see we have money in this budget for a big boxing extravaganza,’ Mr. Bush said.
‘All these things government is getting into, while people have to go without the real funds that can really assist their lives.’
Department of Children and Family Services Assistant Director Jen Dixon said there were 884 people on permanent monthly poor relief payments at the end of April. In the financial year to 17 March, a further 700 families had been assisted with food vouchers, she said.
Between 1 July, 2007, and 23 May, 2008, there had been 60 new applications for permanent poor relief, over 600 new applications for temporary financial assistance and 88 new applications for medical advocacy, she said.
In early May, DCFS Director Deanna Look Loy told the LA her department was seeing a different type of people applying for assistance – ‘working people who are not earning sufficient to meet their basic needs.’
Speaking after the meeting, Mr. Bush said a study carried out by his Government in 2003 had put the poverty line at around $1,500 per month. ‘The rate should be up to $800 at the very least,’ he said.
‘We need to get [the monthly payments] up to $800 then link them to inflation increases,’ he argued. ‘These are the most vulnerable in our society.’
Contractor help sought
In a second motion, Mr. Bush called for government to remove some of the obstacles that smaller contractors face in tendering for small and medium size government projects.
In particular, he wants them to have a bigger bite of the apple in the construction of four Ministry of Health and Human Services capital projects expected to commence in the coming financial year. They include a senior citizen home in North Side; a secured juvenile remand facility; a long term mental health facility; and renovation work on the East End Senior Citizen Home.
‘The small contractors in this country have been left out since 2005,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘There are many builders that can take on these jobs if we move the stumbling blocks that I had to move – and I had to take criticism for it – but I ensured that the small contractors were involved.’
He said the size of the four projects, which government has budgeted $1 million each toward in the coming financial year, meant they were ideal to be taken on by smaller contractors.
‘I’m not saying they don’t have to be tendered … but remove the stumbling blocks that are sat before them,’ he said, without specifically outlining what he saw those obstacles to be.
North Side MLA Edna Moyle called for contractors from the particular districts in which the projects will be built to be considered for the jobs.
Mr. Eden said Cabinet will have to discuss what can be done, but added ‘I think it’s a policy that is a good idea to help our people.’
Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden lent his support to the motion, saying ‘there are a lot of small contractors that are in need, that are not getting a share of what is going on.
‘For all the construction taking place in the country, we still find that … they are not getting enough work.’
However West Bay MLA, and Public Accounts Committee member, Cline Glidden, saw a certain irony in the motion’s unanimous approval, and questioned what support for the non-binding proposal would achieve.
‘I just heard this committee approve a motion to say we are going to remove all obstacles to allow small contractors to bid … and here we are getting ready to deal with a report on Boatswain’s Beach, where that was exactly what was done.
‘What is the purpose of the motion that we just passed? What does that achieve?
‘It means that this government will now assist all those people by helping them to get the jobs,’ fired back his colleague, Mr. Bush. ‘It means the tendering procedures will have to be looked at for them; the bond, if that is still in place, will have to be looked at. The smaller ones will have to have an easier way over the larger ones. That’s all that means.’