SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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Social Development Minister Donna Cox says her ministry distributed 8,200 temporary food cards to the 41 members of Parliament in the weeks leading to Christmas to assist their needy constituents.

She spoke to the media during a visit to Tricia Straker and her eight children in San Juan yesterday.

Cox said the one-time use cards cost her ministry over $5 million.

“We had a special Christmas food card distribution that we gave to all constituencies, 200 food cards were given to each member of Parliament and this cost over $5 million, 200 food cards worth $550 each,” Cox said.

She said although the cards are for one-time use, they are valid up until January 31, 2021.

“They (recipients) can cash it in up until the end of January, so even if someone decides well for Christmas I have so I am going to keep it for January because that might be a hard month, then they have up until the end of January that they can cash it in a supermarket,” she said.

She said while most people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic have since found employment since the Government’s rollback measures reopened large sectors of the economy, there are still many families who will need assistance in the New Year.

“ Most people who lost their jobs are now back to work but there will always be people who need assistance, there are the normal grants that are available at the ministry, public assistance, food support etc- once they pass the means test, they can go to any of our social welfare offices and they can apply.”

Cox said her biggest challenge at the ministry, where she took over the reins from her colleague Camille Robinson- Regis after the General Election in August, was the clearing the backlog of applications for income-support grants.

“We had to move staff around to deal with the volume of people who applied also people who clogged the system because they were not eligible but they applied, some knowingly and some unknowingly – and of course if we have to go through all the applications, that would have hindered others from getting their grants.”

Cox said it was tough on her because many citizens were complaining of not being able to access the grants.

“But we have been able to weather the storm, we have a few still processing, we are actually waiting on releases, but we have stopped taking applications so we will clear all those that we have inside.”

She said there were several reports of fraudulent applications that were referred to the Fraud Squad of the TTPS but said she did not know what were the outcomes of those cases.