The Cayman Islands government plans to spend more than $36 million on poor relief, as well as stipends to former seamen and veterans over the next two budgets.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller noted that there may be some cases where local families are receiving assistance separately from a number of those programs, causing a duplication in government bureaucracies enlisted to serve them.
“Are some people getting three poor relief payments?” Mr. Miller asked.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, whose ministry comprises community affairs services such as poor relief, said there is a distinct difference between seamen’s and veterans’ benefits, which are paid to individuals for their service to the country, and poor relief.
“[The seamen and veterans] will not wish to see their payment amalgamated under poor relief,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The criteria is similar, if not the exact same, in terms of what their income actually is.”
Mr. Miller asked whether it was possible for a seaman to receive the monthly assistance payment of $550, while their spouse received a similar payment for poor relief. The premier said it was possible.
“What we need to be giving the people is $1,000 [per month] and you amalgamate them and give everybody the same thing,” Mr. Miller said.
The premier said both poor relief and seamen’s/veterans’ benefits operate under an income ceiling which cannot be exceeded if that benefit is still to be paid out.
The government has proposed to increase the seamen’s and veterans’ monthly benefits from the current $550 per month to $750 per month by Jan. 1, 2019. This proposal would boost the budget for veterans payments by more than $200,000 per year in 2018 and 2019.
However, there appears to be a significant discrepancy in the number of veterans on the public dole and the numbers the veterans association believes qualify for those payments.
The benefits are only extended to people who served in World War II or who were on the previous benefits list, drawn up in 1995. At last check, there were more than 120 veterans on the list to receive the monthly stipend.
“We are still in discussions with [the veterans association] about this mysterious issue,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
In addition to the rising costs associated with funding the monthly stipend to seamen and veterans, the Cayman Islands government is now paying between $2.5 million to $3.5 million each month to fund retired seamen, servicemen and uninsured Caymanians’ healthcare costs.
Premier McLaughlin revealed the amounts in March during statements to the Legislative Assembly that detailed the additional cash the Ministry of Health had to pay in each of the last three budget years.
Mr. McLaughlin said government was spending about $1 million to $2 million per month for health services provided to those groups at the Health Services Authority and an additional $1.5 million per month for “tertiary” (specialist or prolonged healthcare) services at overseas or local hospitals.
There are an estimated 1,075 seamen and veterans receiving healthcare coverage in Cayman now and government estimates between 1,300-1,400 “indigents” – Caymanians who have no healthcare coverage. The seamen and veterans are covered under a health plan, but any specialist overseas care they receive is paid directly from government coffers.