Poor assistance increases

In a sign of the economic downturn facing Cayman, government has upped payments for poor relief and school lunch assistance programmes.

A significant increase in the recipients of aid from three separate low income relief efforts has been projected in the current 2009/10 fiscal year.

Government payments to provide school lunches and school uniforms to children from lower earning families tripled in this financial year’s spending plan. Nearly CI$1 million has been set aside for the effort, compared to CI $350,000 spent last year.

According to government records, some 600 to 700 children need help buying lunches and uniforms this year. That’s roughly 15 per cent of all the students enrolled in Cayman’s public school system.

‘With the economic downturn, there’s more demand on the items in this category,’ Housing Minister Mike Adam said Thursday.

Mr. Adam also noted the cost of providing school lunches had increased from $5 per lunch to $7 per lunch.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said he was concerned at the cost increase and about statements in government documents that the school lunch programme was to ensure food provided students met only ‘minimum nutrition standards.’

‘I want to make sure those children getting free lunches receive proper nutrition,’ Mr. Miller said.

Poor relief payments and poor relief vouchers paid out by the government are budgeted to increase by nearly a million dollars as well. Close to 500 additional participants are expected to sign up for those programmes.

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman MLA Moses Kirkconnell pointed out that there had been some difficulty recently in accessing government funds for poor relief programmes.

‘We were told there was not the ability all the time for funds to be released to those in need,’ he said.

Minister Adam indicated, given government’s current budget deficit, that was likely true.

‘This was an issue where the budget (for poor relief payments) was exhausted during the (previous) 2008/09 budget,’ he said, adding that with the approval of the new spending plan poor relief payments should resume.

According to government projections, unemployment in the Cayman Islands is expected to increase to a high of 5.5 per cent sometime during the next 12 months before some slow economic recovery occurs in the latter half of 2010.

Generally, unemployment rates for Caymanians tend to be higher than for non-Caymanians, who are usually not eligible to receive poor relief payments. Foreign workers typically have to leave the country if their permits have expired or are cancelled by their employers.