$180,000 report suggests two choices for social welfare

PAC questions need, value of study

A $180,000 study completed in March as part of an ongoing review of Cayman’s troubled social services network looked at the structure of those services rather than how specific services to the poor and indigent might be improved, according to testimony in the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.

According to committee members, the study appeared to consider two options for welfare payments to those in need: keeping the current system in place, or moving to an “integrated” operation where social service recipients can go to a “one-stop-shop” for all public assistance programs. That plan, according to committee testimony, called for the creation of a “standard rate” payment for welfare recipients – whether they are classed as indigents, seamen, veterans or those receiving temporary assistance.

The study was carried out by consultants from KPMG accounting firm with the aim of creating an outline business case for Cayman’s social services.

Ministry of Community Affairs Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker said Cabinet had not yet accepted the business case and that she was not able to present the document to the Public Accounts Committee, although some members who asked questions about the review had clearly seen it.

Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller asked whether it was the ministry’s intention to proceed with the “integrated” system suggested in the consultant’s review without fixing a number of daunting problems in government’s social services network, including months-long delays in services, non-payment of rental vouchers and tedious three- or six-month reporting requirements for the elderly or the infirm on permanent social services aid.

“I have some serious concerns that we are integrating systems that are not working and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to correct the things that are not working in those units before we integrate them,” Mr. Miller said.

Ms. Whittaker said depending on what Cabinet decides, a number of changes required to combine welfare providers with other government health-related services to those in need will need legislative backing – a process that could take years, in some cases.

“In terms of implementation of the outline business case, we’re really looking at 2021?” Mr. Miller asked.

“Yes, sir,” Ms. Whittaker said.

Accounts committee member Chris Saunders said this time line would not help one Cayman resident whom he was trying to prevent from losing his home sometime next week.

“2021 is too late to get help to the people who need it today,” Mr. Saunders said. “We have people in this community who are hurting, bad. I really have a fundamental problem to see that we take $180,000 that could be used for something else to come back and give us ‘options.’”

The Bodden Town West MLA also questioned whether the “integrated” approach to social services suggested in the business case review was the same as what government did before 2013, when the Needs Assessment Unit was taken out of the government Department of Children and Family Services and run as a separate service.

“We didn’t staff the Needs Assessment Unit correctly … and then we paid $180,000 of the people’s money [for the business case],” Mr. Saunders said. “It frightens me for people in this country … this is a basic function of the government.”

Ms. Whittaker said integrating various social services did not necessarily require departments such as needs assessment and children and family services to merge.

Rather, she told the committee that it would assist in organizing public welfare efforts so that government officials know how many individuals are permanently on the public dole and how many are receiving temporary assistance.

The chief officer said the government lacks reliable data in both of those areas, but it is working with the government’s Computer Services Department to collate those numbers, hopefully by the end of the year.

Auditor General Sue Winspear said she was also concerned about the terms of reference for the business case report.

Ms. Winspear said when her office audited social services in 2014 and 2015, it recommended government create an overall “strategy” to address failings in social services programs.

“We aren’t talking about how government organizes itself,” Ms. Winspear said. “We’re talking about what’s the policy you’re trying to achieve to help older people … disabled people,” she said. “I’m not persuaded that coming up with a ‘do nothing’ or ‘integrated’ approach gets us to … how are people in need in Cayman best served.”

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