Tens of millions spent on welfare

The Cayman Islands government has budgeted $6.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year for poor relief payments.

That spending does not include $1.6 million for rental assistance payments, $1.5 million on food vouchers, $150,000 on burial assistance, $150,000 on pre-school assistance and $30,000 on temporary poor relief for young parents. It also does not include about $6.2 million paid in monthly stipends to seamen and veterans.

The government will also spend $5,445,316 on staffing, administrative costs and in-home care visits to the elderly, indigent and disabled – a $445,316 increase over last year.

Assessments to determine if a Caymanian, or foreign parent of a Caymanian child, qualifies under the Poor Persons (Relief) Law for either temporary or long-term financial assistance are done by six officers at the Needs Assessment Unit.

In the Legislative Assembly last week, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller questioned the evaluation process for individuals being granted such welfare.

“The main test entails a financial assessment. We basically look at income and expenses and to see whether or not there is a deficit,” said Tamara Hurlston of the government’s Needs Assessment Unit, responding to Mr. Miller’s query. Any Caymanian earning a monthly salary of less than $3,000 qualifies for welfare under the Poor Person Persons (Relief) Law. The law caps financial assistance at $10,000 per annum and $50,000 in a lifetime.

Mr. Miller asked if there was a back-to-work scheme for some of the younger people who qualify for financial assistance.

Community Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker said that although the Needs Assessment Unit works with the National Workforce Development Agency, the unit “doesn’t have full staff.”

“They don’t have that time to go and make those connections because they are really trying to keep up with appointments,” Ms. Whittaker said.

Ms. Whittaker said she hopes the unit will be able to hire 15 officers to meet increasing demands for social services.

In the meantime, the needs assessment officers see nine to 14 appointments per day, which equates to one appointment every half-hour.

“Currently on the waiting list for pending [assistance are] 150 persons, but we do see six to nine persons on walk-in per day. The appointments are [booked] out until September,” Ms. Hurlston said.

Funding for child care

The Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee also discussed whether government should spend $2.1 million for both the Bonaventure Boys Home and the Frances Bodden Girls Home at a time when neither is filled to capacity.

Frances Bodden Girls Home is a 24-hour residential facility for youth deemed to need care and protection and for girls who have been ordered into the facility by a court. The Bonaventure Boys Home is a 24-hour rehabilitation facility for boys who have been through the court system.

“[Is it] really worth keeping an establishment open for three boys in such a huge establishment that was built for much more?” asked East End MLA Arden McLean, referring to Bonaventure.

As of last week, there were five young people living at the Frances Bodden Girls Home, which has a 12-person capacity, and three boys living at Bonaventure, which has a 10-person capacity.

“Is it not more worthwhile to find an institution overseas to send these children to?” asked Mr. McLean.

Children and Family Services Director Jen Dixon explained why, in her view, the facilities need to remain open rather than children being sent overseas: “There were issues in separating the children from their parents and issues surrounding getting visas for the children to be sent [away from Cayman].”

Mr. McLean noted that according to a report he read, 80 percent of the children who had lived in Bonaventure in West Bay were either in prison or had died. He did not specify what report he was referring to.

Adoptions

The Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee also discussed implementing the Adoptions Law 2013 and whether any changes were made to shorten the adoption process.

“I recall a time where someone’s adoption took about 10 years, and I was told the average time would be less than a year with the new law coming into place,” said Mr. Miller.

Ms. Dixon said on average, adoptions can take between 18 and 24 months.

There are currently 37 children in foster care, Ms. Dixon told legislators. “Presently, we have eight children at the Nadine Andrias Foster Home and we have 29 other children spread amongst the 14 foster parents we have,” she said. Since 2013, the Department of Children and Family Services handled 36 new applications for adoption.

As of June 6 this year, 16 adoption applications were finalized, according to Ms. Dixon.

There are currently 62 adoption cases total being dealt with. The government has allotted $225,000 for foster care for children for this fiscal year.

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