2,500 Cayman families getting social welfare assistance

The Needs Assessment Unit is significantly under-resourced and lacks the necessary manpower and legislation to help move people from welfare to work, according to its director Tamara Hurlston.

The unit currently caters to 2,500 families, including 877 people on permanent financial assistance.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee on Friday, Ms. Hurlston acknowledged that there is limited follow-up for people who receive long-term financial assistance.

“There are persons on permanent financial assistance who would have been there for many years without being re-assessed,” she said.

She said the unit lacks the manpower or the authority to offer assistance to help people on welfare transition into the workforce.

“Our desired result, ultimately, is to help persons to become self-sufficient. One of the ways we could do that is by offering programs, which we should be doing at the moment, but we don’t have the resources or the legislation,” she said.

“We currently have persons, indigent and the underprivileged, waiting for some form of assistance with programs because we don’t have the resources.

“At the moment, what would help the Needs Assessment Unit the most is having proper legislation and having appropriate staffing levels.”

To fill its current functions efficiently, Ms. Hurlston said the unit needs 40 staff, including 20 assessment officers and several compliance officers. Currently, the unit has 24 staff, including 12 assessment officers, and no compliance officers.

She acknowledged that people looking for assistance are frequently given appointments several months away, while others wait early in the morning outside the Needs Assessment Unit in the hope of being one of the dozen or so applicants able to be processed on any given day.

Ms. Hurlston said she has advocated for more resources and that the unit has seen some increases in staffing levels, but, like other departments, it is subject to budget constraints.

The committee is investigating government’s response to a damning auditor general’s report, which pointed to a lack of oversight and accountability for the $50 million spent annually on providing assistance to those in need.

During the proceedings on Friday, independent legislator Winston Connolly said he is concerned that the unit was “putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

He said welfare payments, as well as benefits for seamen and veterans, appear to be handed out indefinitely without checks or follow-up, and questioned whether anything was being achieved.

“You are talking about 10 percent of government revenue. That is a significant amount of money,” Mr. Connolly said.

“It needs the proper structure and personnel. This is so ripe for losing money, it’s like throwing cash out the door. We don’t have any way to assess or bridge people from welfare to workforce,” he added.

Ms. Hurlston accepted this was accurate.

“We do need proper resources to operate this unit,” she said. “One of the issues we are having is the ability to allow persons to come off welfare by offering them some support.”

At an earlier Public Accounts Committee hearing, Dorine Whittaker, chief officer in the Ministry of Community Affairs, acknowledged there is no coordinated strategy for how public money is spent on the islands’ most needy.

She said the auditor’s report is being used as a springboard for reform, with the aim of producing a “business case” for a new social assistance plan by the end of the year.


  1. Needs assessment?.. We all act in that capacity in one way or the other. I assess wither to put someone out of an apartment who cannot pay their rent, before I have to be assessed for need. People are being released from their jobs for trivial infractions, some employers need to assess how some poor woman with two children will survive after laying her off for taking a few hours to check on her children. Calling it stealing from the company do not make the infraction greater.

    Labor department need to track the chain of concern to insure some semblance of procedure is in place and followed, such as counseling statements, reprimand and or time off without pay is at least part of the rehabilitative process. Just laying someone off without a written history of counseling or warnings makes for needs assessment. I don’t have the financial means to act as a needs administrator myself, but I am humane.

  2. Does NAU really need 40 staff?

    In the late 1970s I worked in a DHSS (welfare) office in the UK that covered a city with a population of roughly 250,000. We were dealing with high unemployment (about 9%) and an even higher elderly population. In addition we handled payments to single parents, people receiving sickness benefit and people on disability benefits. Although the system has changed since in those days we also managed rent and mortgage interest payments, special diets, claims for help with NHS charges and grants for clothing, bedding, furniture, even tools so people could start a job. We had 400-500 people coming into the office every day. Overall the workload was about equivalent to dealing with the entire population of the Cayman Islands and in those days it was a completely manual system – if you wanted to check something you had to find the claimant’s case papers.

    Our staffing level was 32 interviewing and assessment officers with eight supervisors who vetted and authorised payments. On top of that we had two receptionists, four security officers, five fraud officers, 10 officers who made home visits, three officers who dealt with recovery of child maintenance payments and a payments officer. I think the total office complement including managers ran around 75-80 and we dealt with 20 times the current NAU workload.

    I’m not saying that the current NAU staff aren’t pulling their weight, this is a tough a job and I respect everyone who does it, but if the current 24 staff can’t handle work that my office would have managed with about half-a-dozen officers there’s something very wrong with the system.

Comments are closed.