(CMR) The Government’s plan to overhaul services for the most vulnerable in the Cayman Islands has taken a leap forward with the introduction and publication of the Financial Assistance Bill, 2022.
The Bill if passed by Parliament will replace the 25 year-old Poor Persons Act and is expected to provide a modern framework to address the needs of the vulnerable.
“The landmark Financial Assistance Bill would replace the ‘Poor Persons (Relief) Act’ with a modern legislative framework which will set the stage for more effective service, public finance accountability, and a bridge to self-sufficiency for able clients,” Minister for Investment, Innovation, and Social Development Hon. André Ebanks stated.
Components of the bill
The Financial Assistance Bill defines the functions of the Department (currently the Needs Assessment Unit) and its duties, a standard feature of legislation. Upon commencement of the legislation, the name of the Needs Assessment Unit will be the Department of Financial Assistance.
The Bill confirms who is eligible for Government’s financial assistance, namely, Caymanians, spouses of a Caymanian, or guardians of a Caymanian dependent, all of whom must be resident on island during the time of the application and at least eight of the twelve months preceding the application.
It also adopts a more holistic approach to individuals who are receiving Government financial assistance, including the introduction of conditions that will be attached, in particular for households with adult members who are able to work.
The Financial Assistance Bill provides transparency and accountability for decisions, including dealing with grievances and a new appeals tribunal, as well as the protection of personal information.
The Bill enables Cabinet to create associated regulations for the implementation of the legislation after Parliament passes it. Among other criteria, these regulations are likely to cover:
– The number of working days in which the Department will process complete applications;
– Exemptions for emergency circumstances;
– Consideration for transitional services (i.e., during the transitional period after employment has been obtained); and
– Specific provisions concerning varying household sizes and issues related to household composition (such as older persons living with their adult children; people with disabilities) to align with the Cayman Islands Older Persons Policy and Disability Policy.
In concert with the Financial Assistance Bill, many transformative changes to Government’s financial assistance have been underway by the Ministry of Investment, Innovation and Social Development.
Several tangible improvements have been introduced in recent months to streamline processes for persons who are applying for financial assistance. In December 2021, the Needs Assessment Unit also launched an Online Application Portal, accessed through its website at www.nau.gov.ky. Users with an active Digicel mobile number (SIM card) are able to access and utilize the NAU's Online Application form, even if their account does not have credit.
In July 2022, the Needs Assessment Unit changed its renewal policy for older persons and persons with disabilities, which are permanent in nature, to be able to complete a “Continuation Certificate” if their circumstances have not changed. This policy change is intended to reduce the burden on people who need financial assistance.
Tamara Ebanks, Acting Chief Officer of the Ministry of Investment, Innovation and Social Development, echoed the Minister’s sentiments.
She said, “If passed by Parliament, the Financial Assistance Bill will repeal an essentially two page Act, originally enacted 1964, that was last updated 25 years ago. It is a concrete demonstration of the profound commitment of the Ministry of Investment, Innovation and Social Development to re-imagining social development in the Cayman Islands.”
Acting Deputy Chief Officer Rayle Roberts said “the new legislation came to fruition through significant and extensive consultations undertaken by the Ministry with a wide array of community partners, including health practitioners, other professionals, NGOs, philanthropic and civic organizations. This dialogue revealed the significant extent to which all of these individuals and entities play a crucial role in understanding and overcoming the barriers to advancing social development in our community.”
He said a collaborative approach will continue going forward.
“People who are in a position to require Government’s financial assistance deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. This is evident even in the title of the new legislation, which delivers a comprehensive replacement for the outdated and egregiously named ‘Poor Persons (Relief) Act',”Minister Ebanks said.
Minister Ebanks remarked that the new legislation comprises one component of an overall reform agenda to transform social development.
“We need sweeping, wholescale changes to modernize Government’s involvement with social development in the Cayman Islands, and the Ministry will continue to pursue reforms to deliver those changes for the benefit of our people,” he added.