Official: Fewer families receiving social services

Former Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam stunned the Cayman Islands in 2011 with the announcement that nearly 8,000 people had received some type of financial assistance from the Department of Children and Family Services.

When that number grew again last year, according to government statistics, questions were raised regarding how many people were on the public dole.

According to Alicia “Jen” Dixon, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, the number of families receiving what would be considered public welfare services is far fewer than 8,000.

Items like rental assistance, food vouchers, school lunches and school uniform assistance are only one form of social service, Mrs. Dixon told the Legislative Assembly last month. The Department of Children and Family Services also provides other services, such as legal assistance and family counseling, that would have been included in government figures but might not be considered welfare.

The government’s plan during the current fiscal year is to split the operation of the “welfare aspects” provided by the Department of Children and Family Services into a separate government office called the Needs Assessment Unit.

“Provision and management of financial assistance service will be covered by the Needs Assessment Unit in a more efficient and comprehensive manner inclusive of poor relief, school lunches, food vouchers and burial assistance,” Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated during his budget policy address.

Changes to Cayman’s Poor Person’s Relief Law and accompanying regulations would be needed before making the change, Mr. McLaughlin said.

Total social services assistance levels in last year’s government budget [2012/13] declined slightly from a peak in 2011, according to figures provided by Mrs. Dixon.

During the 2012/13 budget year, which ended in June, Mrs. Dixon said, 1,795 families received some form of temporary financial aid from one or more social service categories. Another 971 families received some form of poor relief. Typically, the government uses a standard multiplier for a family unit to determine how many individuals receive assistance.

The figures break down as follows for each specific type of social service assistance:

In 2012/13, 437 families received temporary rental assistance, compared to 497 families in 2011 and 349 in 2010.

Some 1,300 families received food vouchers in the 2012/13 budget year, compared to 1,423 families in 2011 and 1,088 in 2010.

Electricity and water bill payment assistance was given to 481 families, compared to 609 families in 2011 and 341 in 2010.

Also according to 2012/13 figures, 52 families received help with burial assistance, 532 families received school lunch subsidies and another 166 families received school uniforms subsidies. In addition, preschool fees were paid for 115 families.

Budgeting for assistance

Government’s 2013/14 budget plan, which was formally approved by lawmakers on Wednesday, appropriates tens of millions of dollars toward social service programs.

Poor relief payments are budgeted to cost $6.3 million over the next year, while poor relief vouchers will cost $1.5 million. Rental accommodation for those in need is set to cost $1.6 million, burial assistance for indigents will cost $150,000, foster care for children will cost $225,000, care for the indigent/elderly/disabled was budgeted at $1.4 million.

The government expects to spend $5.4 million on ex-gratia benefit payments to seamen and benefit payments to ex-servicemen are budgeted at $1.2 million. Administration of community assistance programs is budgeted at just more than $5 million this year, while counseling and support services will cost $4.8 million and supervision and support of children $1.8 million.