Pensioners queue to collect their grants at a Sassa pay point in Jeppes Reef, Mpumalanga. File photo: SOWETAN/SANDILE NDLOVU
Pensioners queue to collect their grants at a Sassa pay point in Jeppes Reef, Mpumalanga. File photo: SOWETAN/SANDILE NDLOVU

Applications for the R350 temporary grant, meant to provide some relief for those who are unemployed and not receiving any form of financial assistance, will officially open on Monday.

Social Security Agency of SA (Sassa) CEO Busisiwe Memela said that in the initial test of the application system, 91,000 people applied for the social relief of distress grant via the Whatsapp line, which was started with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of those who had applied through the Whatsapp line, 11,000 were found to already be receiving a social grant. A total of 250,000 had applied via e-mail, of which 50% were already receiving financial help, disqualifying them.

In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500bn social and economic support package that includes wide-ranging support for the most vulnerable people through R50bn in expanded social grants. This includes a top-up of grants and a special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 a month for the next six months for those who are now unemployed and do not receive any other form of grant or UIF payment.

The applications for the social relief of distress grant were expected to be opened by noon on Monday. Those wanting to apply could do so through Whatsapp, SMS and online.

Memela said applicants would be checked against all government databases to ensure that they were not receiving some sort of financial relief through a social grant, the UIF or National Student Financial Aid Scheme, among others.

This is an exciting opportunity.... Despite the challenges that Covid-19 has given us, we have had to work smarter and make sure we work through all the structures of government,” she said.

Memela said the system being used for the temporary relief grant would also help Sassa look at its current grant beneficiaries and vet them properly, ensuring that they really did qualify for a grant.

“This is a huge opportunity for government to make sure resources go to those who need it,” she said.

Questions were raised last week about Sassa's technical ability to pay the temporary grant, as a glitch in the social grant system resulted in some beneficiaries last week finding themselves without money and others having been paid double.

Memela explained that the temporary grant would not be distributed in the same way as social grants. Money will be paid directly into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts. For those who did not have a bank account, she said, there would be the option of collecting money from the Post Office through an Mzansi account or through cash-send or e-wallet.

The Sassa CEO said the agency had looked at its systems and “strengthened the modus operandi”. She said that overtime support would be provided to communities who did not have access to technology.

“For us to make sure service is efficient, we need to use technology in areas that are far flung. Young people will go to areas and provide that support,” she said.

Memela also announced that Sassa offices would start to open at 30% capacity and staff would work on a rotational basis. That will start happening from Monday.

She said the Sassa offices would deal with applications for old-age pensions on Mondays and Tuesdays, as some people turned 60 during the lockdown and now qualified.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Sassa staff will deal with applications for child support grants and foster care grants.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za