(CMR) The process of getting financial assistance from the Government is expected to improve significantly with the passing of the Financial Assistance Bill 2022 on Monday, 10 October 2022, by the Cayman Islands Parliament.
Numerous members of Parliament heralded the Bill as a “landmark” piece of modern legislation that will be a foundational cornerstone of reimaging social development in the Cayman Islands.
The Minister for Investment, Innovation and Social Development, the Hon. André Ebanks stated,
“The Financial Assistance Bill 2022 represents a significant accomplishment in advancing the Government’s social development agenda and priorities. It provides a 21st-century legislation for eligible Caymanians who are in need of Government’s financial assistance while building in accountability and legal recourse.”
Financial Assistance Bill introduces changes to social programs
When commenced, the Financial Assistance Bill 2022 will repeal the 1964 “Poor Persons Relief Act,” which effectively remained unchanged for the past 58 years. It will also (among other things):
-Re-name the relevant Department – currently called the “Needs Assessment Unit” – to the “Department of Financial Assistance.” The Bill likewise defines the functions of the Department and its duties ─ which is a standard feature of legislation.
-Clearly outline and define, for the first time in legislation, who is eligible for Government’s financial assistance, namely: Caymanians, spouses of a Caymanian, or guardians of a Caymanian dependent. All of them must be residents on island during the time of the application and at least eight of the twelve months preceding the application.
-Allow the introduction of conditions that can be attached to financial assistance, particularly for households with adult members who can work, so that they may be enabled to lead productive, stable lives.
-Create transparency and accountability for decisions, including dealing with grievances and a new appeals tribunal, as well as protecting personal information.
Ms. Tamara Ebanks, Acting Chief Officer of the Ministry of Investment, Innovation and Social Development, stated:
“After extensive policy and consultative work, preceded by work in the Ministry of Community Affairs, I am delighted that the Financial Assistance Bill 2022 has been passed by the Parliament,” she said. “The Bill addresses numerous concerns brought to light in 2015 by the Office of the Auditor General. It fundamentally aligns with the Civil Service principle of improving the lives of those we serve in the Cayman Islands.”
The next steps over the coming months will be the implementation of the Bill by the Ministry and the new Department of Financial Assistance (see below) to prepare for the intended commencement of the Bill in Q1 2023. The Bill enables Cabinet to create accompanying regulations to govern the procedures of the Appeals Tribunal and to govern operational and practical matters such as:
-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 with respect to 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.
Deputy Premier the Hon. Chris Saunders was emphatic in noting that the Bill is underpinned by the principle of human dignity and that it is “a promise made, and a promise kept.”
Parliamentary Secretary for Social Development, Ms. Heather Bodden, said, “This long overdue Bill will bring comfort to anyone who has had an issue obtaining Government’s financial assistance. It defines eligibility for the first time in law, builds in good governance, and creates transparency in the process.”
Parliamentary Secretary Katherine Ebanks-Wilks said, “We must do our part to level up our people. I commend the holistic approach to removing setbacks that prevent people from obtaining and maintaining steady employment. At the same time, the Bill will provide better value to the Government purse by ensuring that support is not abused and creating accountability on the part of the recipients.“
Deputy Governor, the Hon. Franz Manderson also expressed his support, stating, “The Financial Assistance Bill has the potential to break the cycle of multi-generational reliance on Government’s financial assistance, giving the ability to attach conditions to financial assistance that will enable people to obtain skills and employment. I have every confidence in the continued dedication and commitment of the Civil Service leadership to enacting the Bill and making it operational for the benefit of all of our people.”