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.”

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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.

Survival resource

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.”

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  1. I know it seems harsh but this sounds like the result of a lifetime of poor decisions. Failure to invest in house insurance so had to pay for her own repairs after a hurricane – which is a foreseeable risk. Failure to save adequately for retirement despite knowing there is no state pension, again, a foreseeable future. Failure to have adequate medical insurance so has to pay for own medical bills. Failure to save enough money for a rainy day despite three adults in the household working. The lady has significant capital and savings built up in her property, so now it’s time to realise that to cover her retirement and live in rented accommodation. Careful planning and that equity released will provide for her for the rest of her life. You can’t expect to live a life spending all of your money with no regard for the future, and then want the government or charities to bail you out. Those who sacrifice a little every week when they are working to put into savings don’t then have to rely on the government when the foreseeable happens (like retirement) later on. My husband worked a $6-$10 an hour job here for the last 15 years, and it was enough for us to live on and to save too. He’s had no work for more than a year and yet we are living off those savings still and don’t need anyone else to support us. However, the NAU sounds like an absolute nightmare. Another reason to support yourself and make plans.

  2. Really Susan?! You did read the bit about “cancer” right? Insurance alone doesn’t cover cancer treatment. Perhaps that’s where her money went. Plus supporting a sick daughter. Instead of making hasty judgements perhaps you could assist her in some way with your oh so obvious financial wisdom!