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A group of senior citizens wait outside FCB on High Street, San Fernando, on Tuesday.

BOBIE-LEE DIXON

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New initiatives are underway for T&T’s elderly population to be better able to cope with technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Social Development and National Family Services, Donna Cox, revealed during an interview yesterday.

“This is my focus because remember I also have an elderly mom. I am very much into the elderly,” said Cox.

She added, “I am working closely with our Division of Ageing to ensure that the elderly are properly treated. We are looking at the legislation too, which I can tell you. We are looking at legislation governing the elderly and we are due to make some changes.”

Cox’s statement, comes on the heels of Tuesday’s chaotic scenes at TTPost’s St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain location, banks, and supermarkets, where scores of pensioners rushed to collect their monthly cheques, one day after the Indian Arrival Day Holiday.

She revealed one of the new initiatives currently being worked on by the Ministry was the Digital Literacy Training Programme for the elderly, which would enable and empower more senior citizens to become digitally equipped to utilise online facilities for payment of their bills and to conduct other critical financial activities, especially which was imperative during the pandemic.

But Cox noted, such an initiative was also in keeping with the recommendations from the XII Ministerial Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Forum for Social Development, which focuses on three key areas of development – social protection and fiscal systems; inclusive digital transformation; and effective governance.

In the meantime, however, she said several other services were currently already implemented by the Ministry, to assist the elderly. Among these services was a direct deposit, whereby the funds go directly to their bank accounts following which they can then make point-of-sale purchases or withdrawals at the automatic banking machines. But more importantly, this measure addressed fraudulent activity.

“It is also to stop some of the fraudulent activities that have been taking place where elderly persons cheques were going missing,” Cox disclosed.

She said while the Ministry had been continually lobbying for the use of this service, it was still a bit underutilised, so it was about to host another education drive to raise awareness.

Cox noted pension cheques were not only cashable at certain TTPost outlets but also at supermarkets and banks that had reserved the first one or two hours of opening especially for senior citizens, a measure to avoid crowding which increases the risk of spread of COVID-19 amongst this very vulnerable group.

Both First Citizens and Republic Bank confirmed this when Guardian Media reached out to them yesterday.

Cox, however, expressed some disappointment over the handling of pensioner cheques by some supermarkets.

“I met with the Supermarkets Association to express my disappointment that some supermarkets have been involved in cashing cheques for persons, even with fraudulent IDs. They’re not checking…they’re not being as vigilant as they should.”

In addition, she disclosed some supermarkets have even been charging pensioners a fee to change their cheques.

“That is another area that I’ve had discussions with the Supermarkets Association,” said Cox.

She said that the Ministry was making every effort to ensure that necessary protocols were carried out at its local social welfare district offices and homes for the elderly under its remit.

Cox said a daily 8 am-4 pm hotline was available – 800-OPIC (1405) for all seniors for applications, requests, or queries.

No need for pensioners to visit TTPost

Also speaking on the issue, Minister of Public Utilities, Marvin Gonzales in a WhatsApp response to Guardian Media’s question on what provisions were in place for the elderly who have to pay public utility bills during this time, said systems have been put in place to facilitate easy access to all services and payment of bills and to give preferential treatment to the vulnerable.

He wrote, “As a general policy, all our utility companies (T&TEC, WASA, TSTT, TTPost), and indeed the entire public service, are mandated to treat all their customers with dignity and respect and in particular, the vulnerable members of the population are, be it, our senior citizens, differently-abled, pregnant women, etc.”

Commenting on what occurred on Tuesday, “There is no need for pensioners to come to an outlet to collect their cheques. These are delivered to their homes by the first day of the month.”

He said customers over the age of 60 who were served ‘over the counter’ via the retail network would be served during a specified time.

“Public notification will be placed in the press, supported by radio announcements to advise the public accordingly and there are increased “temporary relief officers” to support the delivery network for those persons receiving service via “door to door” delivery.”