Food News

Food cards abuse under probe | Local News

THE Government spends $220.5 million annually to provide food cards and an investigation will weed out those who are taking advantage of the programme geared for the needy, says Social Development Minister Donna Cox.

Cox told the Express yesterday the total annual expenditure on the Food Support Programme in 2021 is $220,517,880.

The ministry’s records show that the current number of food support clients is 31,784. This includes temporary and permanent clients.

The minister stated that there are many irregularities with the programme, including people gainfully employed having a food card as well as people who reside abroad.

Cox said the persons currently on the Food Support System will be assessed to ensure that they are in need and are in fact eligible. A release from the Social Development Ministry yesterday also clarified that the Food Support Programme has not been suspended.

It stated that an investigation will take place to review current beneficiaries and ensure those who receive are eligible.

A food card is given to households where there are vulnerable persons in need of food support.

Payments are as follows:

1-3 persons per Household—$510

4-5 persons per Household—$650

6-plus persons per Household—$800

The minister assured that none of the existing clients have been removed and this will only be done based on a proper assessment of each individual case.

She added that clients on the programme are also guaranteed that they can continue to use their card and cheques provided to acquire food for their household.

Evaluation report

By Memorandum dated December 16, 2021, the Social Welfare Division was directed to suspend the Food Support Programme (New applicants) and conduct an investigation.

Cox said this action was taken after the ministry, in September 2021, conducted a sample survey and evaluation of the programme and the beneficiaries which found that the programme was not meeting its targeted group—the vulnerable and food poor.

Some of the irregularities found in the programme include:

1. Persons on the Food Support Programme who were now gainfully employed and never reported their change of status to the Ministry, or indicated that they no longer require this support;

2. Food support clients in receipt of Senior Citizens Pension;

3.Food support clients in receipt of Public Assistance Grants;

4.Food support clients in receipt of Disability Assistance Grants;

5. Food support clients in receipt of both Public assistance Grants and Disability Assistance Grants;

6.Clients on food support are assigned to community care facilities and the Ministry met the full cost of the their upkeep, including all meals;

7. There were clients on the Food Support Programme ($510 per month) with balances of food cards amounting to over $2,000 and $6,000, as though this grant is not a necessity;

8. There were persons on the Food Support Programme who reside abroad;

9. Persons were also utilising food cards to make purchases like alcohol and cigarettes, but not food;

10. Persons were utilising their food cards in exchange for cash;

11. Persons applying for cards and being assessed based on the need to feed their children in the household, but the children did not benefit from the grant;

12. There were complaints of irregularity in the approvals process, favouritism in the application process and irregular transactions related to food cards;

13. An apparent misinterpretation and/or non-compliance with the instructions and procedures regarding the administration of the grant by staff;

14. No assessments of the beneficiaries of food support were undertaken. Clients on permanent food support are required to be assessed every two years.

Cox stated that given that new applicants will be impacted, the Ministry is making every effort to provide temporary support to those in need, in the interim, through the issuance of temporary food cards and food vouchers, where necessary.

She stated that such circumstances have obviously created some issues to be addressed in the programme and has placed a burden on the public purse as deserving persons are left behind.

“Our aim is to ensure that the most vulnerable in society receive the support they need,” she stated.