When Angelica Thompson-Miller lost her job in the first days of the pandemic, it was just the beginning of her problems.
With no other source of income, the 72-year-old grandmother and cancer survivor has been trying in vain, since last March, to get support from the Needs Assessment Unit.
Despite advocacy on her behalf from non-profit workers, her doctor and political candidates, she says it took more than a year from her first filling out the intake forms to the point where she was told she was not eligible for financial aid.
“Everybody said they are going to help me and they never did,” she told the Cayman Compass.
“It was all paperwork and running up and down and they took my information and never did get back to me.”
She said it was the first time she had asked for support to help meet her living expenses.
“I am 72 and I never did ask them for any help but now I have no job and my daughter is sick and out of work. All I am asking is for a little help with food, water and lights.”
She said she was frustrated at filling out the same form several times with no response for a year.
“I am not telling no lies,” she said. “I am fed up and I feel ready to give up.”
The Acts of Random Kindness charity supported Thompson-Miller with what it hoped would be temporary relief for food and utilities while she waited for a response from the NAU.
Nearly 14 months later, the non-profit is still helping her.
“Without ARK I would have starved,” Thompson-Miller said.
Tara Nielsen, who runs ARK, said she has heard the same concerns multiple times from clients who had not been able to get a response on requests for aid.
“It is a consistent complaint we hear from clients and it is a motivating factor behind our work. There has to be a ‘survival resource’ available to people while they wait for government relief. What else will they do in the mean time?”
After filling out the same form multiple times and visiting the NAU headquarters to pursue her application, Thompson-Miller says she kept getting the same response: “We will call you.”
It wasn’t until ARK reached out to some of the candidates running for office, and Kenrick Webster, an independent candidate in the George Town West area where Thompson-Miller lives, got involved, that anyone contacted her.
I am 72 and I never did ask them for any help but now I have no job and my daughter is sick and out of work. All I am asking is for a little help with food, water and lights.
Webster told the Compass he had made some inquiries on her behalf. He said he would continue to do so, despite losing in the election, and is hopeful that she may still be eligible for long-term support.
After Webster’s initial intervention, the NAU did send officers to meet Thompson-Miller at her home, but after evaluating her circumstances, she was told she was not eligible for aid because her granddaughter, who also lives on the property, has a job.
“They asked me for all my granddaughter’s pay cheques [copies of payslips] and then I didn’t hear from them again,” she said.
“Mr. Kenrick called them and about a month later… they called me and said I was not eligible for any support.”
She says her granddaughter helps fund medical bills and other expenses for her mother, among other household costs.
“If only they would have asked her about her expenses, they would have seen it wasn’t enough.”
Nielsen said it was ridiculous that a 24-year-old should be expected to carry the household expenses of three adults on a small salary.
Pension went on Ivan
Thompson-Miller owns her own home, off Walkers Road, having paid off the mortgage over 30 years. She used her small pension, at age 60, to repair damage to the property after 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.
“When I had 60 years, Ivan mash up everything. I asked to get my pension. It was just $20,000, something like that, and I had to use it to fix the house.”
Now the eaves are crumbling and the paint is flecked on the walls of the old property, but fixing it is impossible.
“I hope and pray there will be no hurricane, because I don’t know what I would do,” she said.
Despite the challenges, she is trying to remain hopeful.
She was given three years to live after being diagnosed with cancer in 2016.
“I survived that, so maybe I can survive anything,” she said.
As the complaints detailed in today’s Issues series demonstrate, Thompson-Miller’s story is far from unique.
The frustration, delays and lack of clarity over whether services will be granted from the NAU is a “sad compounding element” of poverty in the Cayman Islands, says Nielsen.
“In many cases, clients will choose to live in the bush in makeshift structures or containers rather than endure the NAU process,” she said.
“For the most part, it seems that applicants do not understand what aid they are entitled to. Evidenced by what we are seeing and hearing, it is clearly an inconsistent and unjust system. People need help navigating the process, submitting their applications, sourcing documents and, even with ARK advocates, it takes months to find out if you have been approved or denied.”