Letters sent to Cayman’s retired seamen recently caused concern among seafarers who feared they were about to lose their monthly grants from government.
The worried reactions to the correspondence prompted the minister responsible for community affairs, Dwayne Seymour, to explain at the government’s weekly media conference that the letter was merely part of efforts on behalf of his ministry to update its records and to ensure that everyone receiving the monthly $550 ex-gratia payments were actually alive and residing in the Cayman Islands.
He said there had previously been a case of the ministry paying $40,000 in continuous monthly benefits into the bank account of a deceased seaman. The government eventually recouped that money, and much more from other recipients who were receiving the payments when they should not have been.
The minister said that since the ministry started updating its records and double checking who is receiving benefits, it has recouped “some $300,000 from persons who had been deceased or otherwise outside this jurisdiction”.
He added: “A lot of seamen have been calling up everyone in the ministry, including myself, in terms of ‘What’s going on? Are they taking my benefits away?’,” said Mr. Seymour. “There’s no such thing as taking your benefits away. It’s merely trying to confirm a person’s address, confirm you’re still in the Cayman Islands, confirm that you’re not deceased.”
The ex-gratia payments were introduced in 2000, initially at a sum of $200 per month. This was increased to $550 in 2004.
Mr. Seymour said that due to government budget issues, there was now a waiting list of people applying to receive the benefits and there was also a delay in adding “a significant amount of applicants to the seamen ex-gratia benefits programme”, which in the normal course of events should take a month to process.
“Therefore, applicants can only be added once a recipient has been removed from the approved list of beneficiaries,” Mr. Seymour said.
The benefits are paid to retired seamen, their spouses or widows, who qualify for the payments. The benefits are subject to a means test by the Cayman Islands Department of Children and Family Services if the applicant is under the age of 60 or is a business owner.
The ex-gratia grant is payable to seamen, veterans or ex-servicemen who, when after they turn 60, have no fixed income or no dependable means of livelihood.
John Douglas, president of the Seafarers Association, said he was reassured by Mr. Seymour’s comments about why the letters had been sent to the seafarers.
“The letter didn’t really explain what it was all about, but now we know they’re updating their records,” he said. “We thought they were going to discontinue giving [the ex-gratia benefits] to us.”
In the 2011/2012 budget year, the government paid more than $5.6 million in ex-gratia benefits to 850 seamen. That number, according to the 2012/2013 budget documents, increased to 867 seamen during the current financial year.
The government also paid more than $1.3 million in benefit payments to 203 ex-servicemen last year.