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Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox

The Social Development Ministry received $531 million in supplementary funds to meet senior citizens’ pensions, public assistance grants and disability grants in 2021 and the ministry is now assessing if it will need any other increases this fiscal year.

This was confirmed by Social Development Minister Donna Cox yesterday in Parliament when the Standing Finance Committee met to variate sums in the 2021 Budget.

It involved shifting $574.8M from the Finance Ministry to the Social Development Ministry ($531M), Judiciary ($35.1M) and Personnel Department ($8.6m).

Opposition MPs Dave Tancoo, Barry Padarath, Vandana Mohit, Saddam Hosein and David Lee fielded queries on the issue.

On the source of funding for the three divisions, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said funds hadn’t been required by several agencies – including Udecott, T&T Mortgage Finance Company and the Agricultural Development Bank, for GATE funding and others – and savings generated from these were shifted to the three divisions for urgently needed expenditure.

Among replies, Imbert said the ADB had received funding to lend customers but this wasn’t used. He said he didn’t know if it was because customers didn’t request, didn’t meet criteria or it was due to the COVID situation.

Social Development’s Cox said the ministry continued to effectively carry out its mandate of maintaining T&T’s safety net, including support to mitigate COVID-caused issues

The ministry obtained an additional $40m for COVID grants. But she said the $531m also received was to address a shortfall last year, as grants increased over time. She added that there have been no delays and grants have been paid on time.

Sums in the $531M are $418M (for senior citizens’ pensions), $13.1m (public assistance) and disability grants ($99.6m).

There were 108,700 senior citizens listed for pensions in 2021 and of this, 2,876 seniors were new. There were also 572 new names for the disability grant and 757 for the public assistance grant. A review of grants is currently being done.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi detailed use for the $35.1m for the judiciary, saying they were for contract salaries, gratuities, buildings, phone and ISP systems. He said courts have partially occupied the Waterfront Courts Complex.

Al-Rawi declared an interest when he voted on the $8.6m for the Personnel Department. He didn’t say what it was.

Public Administration Minister Allyson West said the $8.6m was to address a shortfall in Budget allocations. It covers job evaluations for the public service, rent/lease accommodation, cost of renewal of software, janitorial services and license fees. The SFC’s report on yesterday’s discussions will be debated Monday.