Sassa says it has no money to extend the temporary disability grant.

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has told the parliament that it has no money to reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants that lapsed last month. Dianne Dunkerley, Sassa’s executive manager responsible for grants administration, told the National Assembly’s social development portfolio committee that the extension of the grant to about 210,000 recipients for the remainder of the financial year would cost about R1.2bn.

She said the agency had about R411m available. The amount is based on an assumption of an 80% return of lapsed temporary disability grants after an assessment process.  Dunkerley explained that should the rate of return for the lapsed grants be 50%, the possible funds available for utilisation would increase to R817m.

She also told the MPs that temporary disability grants were extended beyond the period for which they were approved, from February to December 2020, under the Disaster Management Act and that the cost of these extensions was about R1.8bn, which came from the agency’s existing allocation.

The grant is provided to citizens who are unable to work as a result of a functional limitation caused by a disability or medical condition. It is not provided for people who are able to find work or for those who have chronic conditions which are manageable with treatment. The grant can be given either as a permanent grant or as a temporary arrangement for between six and 12 months, after which the grant lapses.  If a recipient is still unable to work, they have to do a new application with a new medical assessment.

The lapsing of lockdown-linked extensions at the end of December has seen overcrowding at Sassa offices as recipients queue to reapply, in some cases spending nights outside the offices so that they are near the front of the line. There have been calls from civil society organisations and opposition parties for the government to extend the grant until the end of March, as the long queues could contribute to the spread of Covid-19. Sassa has also been criticised for not having enough doctors to conduct the medical assessments which are a prerequisite for an application for a disability grant.

Dunkerley said they were working on a project plan which would see all those whose grants had lapsed back on the system, if they were still unable to work, by March 31. She said Sassa made sure they had additional budget funds available to be able to secure the doctors who will be needed for assessments, particularly for the additional number of assessments that they will be doing and also for the use of community halls and for overtime pay for staff who be doing the capturing.

“We are implementing a client appointment system for the medical assessment and the completion of the social grant application. This is being done to limit the time people spend in queues,” she said.

Dunkerley said having looked at the R411m available, they have decided to reinstate all the temporary disability grants for recipients who are already 59 years old. She said despite these grants having lapsed, Sassa will pay them next month with the amount of money for January as well and they will remain on the payment system until they turn 60 when there is an automatic conversion to the old age pension.

She said this group of recipients was being considered because “the chances of a 59-year-old person getting employed is very small”. There were 9,295 recipients who stand to benefit from this. Sassa will also be reinstating temporary disability grant payments in February for those who receive a grant-in-aid (6,079), those receiving the grant through a procurator (577) and those receiving the grant through an administrator.

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