Carol Paton Editor at large
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The government expects that the first payments of the new R350 social grant for the unemployed will be made in early May, parliamentarians heard on Thursday.

The grant was announced on Tuesday by President Cyril Ramaphosa along with an undertaking to top up other social grants for six months to relieve social distress due to the Covid-19 health and economic crisis. It is targeted at those who do not receive another social grant or a UIF payment.

The criteria for who will qualify for the six-month grant, how they will be identified and verified and how they will access the money are still being determined. Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu told parliament’s portfolio committee on social development that determining who would get the R350 and how to target the right people was a priority.

“We must do this as quickly as we can because we are going to be under a lot of pressure because people are hungry,” said Zulu.

Progress has however been made on the design of an application to facilitate the grant. SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) executives said that an application on the WhatApp platform and the design of a USSD platform — which requires the user to type in a string of numbers to a cellphone to access an application — had reached testing stage.

Head of grants administration Dianne Dunkerley said the agency had, with support from the Solidarity Fund and other partners, completed the design of the front-end of the application and was working on a back-end that would link to a money-transfer system.

“So for all the applications that are approved we will be able to pay the money into a bank account or an e-wallet or a cash-send mechanism ... we are hoping that for the R350 grant the design of the payment will be completed in the next few days and so by early May, at the very latest, we will pay out the first amounts,” she said.

The committee meeting, which was held jointly with the select committee on health and social service, heard MPs from all constituencies raise concerns about corruption in the distribution of food parcels. Allegations ranged from people charging others to make applications to Sassa, to hijacking of trucks and stockpiling of parcels by ward councillors.

MPs across the board appealed to Zulu to reopen the Sassa offices, which have been closed for the lockdown, and not to allow councillors to distribute food parcels.

Before the Covid-19 crisis the department of social development had two mechanisms to assist the indigent: 235 community feeding centres and food parcels. The feeding centres have been closed for the lockdown and all school feeding schemes (run by the provincial education departments) have stopped with the exception of the Western Cape. About 100,000 households have received food parcels, said the department, with half of these in the Western Cape.

Dunkerley said Sassa planned to transition away from food parcels to cash payments, “as a more effective way of getting money to people”. The test run for the application process for the R350 grant was being done using the data base of households that receive food parcels. Once completed, the idea was to move away from food parcels to cash payments, she said. The system would then be rapidly scaled up with new applications for the R350 grant.

A public launch of the new grant is expected within a week.

Social development deputy director-general Brenda Sibeko clarified that the top-up to the child support grant, which will be an additional R350 at the end of April and then R500 for the five months thereafter, was intended for the caregiver of the child and not the child. This means that a caregiver of multiple child beneficiaries will get one R500 top-up grant monthly. The normal grant is R450 a child.

Sibeko said that there were 13-million child beneficiaries and 7-million caregivers.

Social grant payments will be staggered again in April with the elderly first in line. Unlike in March, when younger people also arrived to collect grants at the same time, their grants will not be available until a few days later, said Sassa CEO Busisiwe Memela-Khambula.

MPs said the closure of Sassa offices has caused enormous hardship as many people have no other channel to access the department of social development.

Zulu said that a “risk-adjusted approach” to the lockdown was under discussion and the matter of opening the Sassa offices would be discussed by the national command centre.

patonc@businesslive.co.za

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