Up to eight million may benefit from Covid-19 basic grant
Six to eight million unemployed South Africans stand to benefit from government's newly announced R350 grant relief scheme to mitigate against Covid-19 poverty.
Of the R15bn that the government allocated to welfare grants this week, R13bn will go towards increases in existing grants and R2bn will go towards relief for unemployed people.
The social security agency is also planning to move away from distributing food parcels to a new digital system where cash will be provided through bank accounts, e-wallets and e-vouchers.
The department of social development told parliament on Thursday that it was still working on the modalities of how the R350 grant relief would be disbursed but the department was confident that it will be ready to make the payments early next month.
Minister Lindiwe Zulu said her department will urgently finalise the criteria and timelines for the scheme and that they were building capacity to make sure they have the correct people benefiting from it.
The department's Brenda Sibeko, a deputy director-general for social security, said the grant is targeted at people with no income, not receiving a child support grant and not benefiting from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
“We do recognise that six months is not adequate and there has to be a whole lot of other interventions that are done,” she said.
Following the declaration of the lockdown, the department of social development requested the National Treasury to increase the child support grant because it is the smallest amount (R440) of all the grants paid by the state, said Sibeko.
It also targets children from poor households, and in the context of Covid-19, those households became poorer because some of the caregivers would be people who work in the informal sector, some unemployed and others working piece jobs, unable to earn an income during this time.
“We were very pleased with the generosity of the president in deciding to include all of the other grants to make sure we augment the income of the different households,” said Sibeko.
“We had wanted much more money than that [for the child support grant] but we recognise that the number of beneficiaries [18 million] — and to add about six to eight million beneficiaries in the informal sector, it would not be possible to give them a higher amount of money.
“So the R350 is what we were able to get and Sassa will start distributing,” she said.
In this regard, executive manager for grants administration Dianne Dunkerly said the new payment system would be ready “in a matter of days” but most likely over the weekend.
“We would be able to pay the money into a bank account, e-wallet or some cash type mechanism so that we can stop the food parcels. It would be a much more effective way to get money to people quickly,” she said. Applications for the new basic income grant are also being done by phone.
This is part of Sassa's plan to move away from food parcels to a new digital system where cash will be provided through bank accounts, e-wallets and e-vouchers.
Currently, food parcels are distributed to central points for collection and, where feasible, to individual's homes. The agency says the traditional method of delivering food parcels was not effective.
Sassa CEO Totsie Memela said they hoped to start issuing the e-vouchers to those who have applied after next week. She said due to Covid-19, Sassa had already moved from a paper-based process to a call centre-based process but is now planning to introduce an automated process for individuals applying for grants or who had queries about the system.
MPs from across the political party spectrum didn't seem convinced with the shift to the digital system and called for Sassa offices to be reopened.
They raised concerns around access but also said some people may not be able to do applications over the phone without the assistance of agency officials.
MPs also spoke against what they called “the politicisation” of food parcel distribution, claiming that councillors were accused of either selling the parcels or diverting them to their homes.