Following the surge in the number of new Covid-19 infections and the second wave in four provinces, the Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu recently gave an update on the decisions the department has taken in order to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking during a media briefing, Zulu said that the department has seen a growing demand for social protection services in the form of income support, food relief, shelter as well as psychosocial services, including care and support services for persons and persons with disabilities, amongst others.
Zulu said the lockdown period also presented additional challenges to vulnerable individuals and households, many of whom were already struggling to meet basic needs prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. She said disruptions in livelihoods occasioned by sudden loss of income and unemployment meant that a new group of people who were facing undue hardship had to be added to the social protection system.
Zulu also said that since the declaration of the State of the National Disaster in March, SASSA continued paying social grants without any major interruptions, including the implementation of the 6-month top-up grants that were introduced in April this year.
“We have commenced with payments for December to avoid overcrowding and long queues at pay points. To date, more than 11, 4 million beneficiaries have received their social grants to the tune of R15, 5 billion. Between May and October, we allocated an additional financial support to over 11 million social grant recipients and the amount spent was approximately R31 billion,” she said.
The minister also said that one of the challenges that SASSA faced during the lockdown period is the processing of temporary disability grants as face-face assessments and closure of some of the health facilities.
“About 210 000 temporary disability grants will lapse on the 31st of December 2020. We urge all those affected by the lapsing of this extension to contact local SASSA offices for an assessment. Applicants are reminded to have a referral letter from the medical practitioner before they report to SASSA offices. SASSA is already working on a plan to ensure that those who need to re-apply for the temporary disability grant are afforded the opportunity to do so,” she said.
With regard to the Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant, Zulu said the department has distributed R13.5 billion Rand to more than 6 million eligible beneficiaries to date. She added that out of the 9, 5 million applications processed in November, over 6, 9 million applications were approved and already paid.
She said December applications are being processed and that payments will be made before the last week of December. She explained that out of these payments, SAPO accounts for 4 million, 1,6 million are paid through personal accounts and one hundred thousand through the mobile money/ cash send platforms.
“There is still a relatively small number of applications approved but not yet paid for the period between May and October. This is due to a number of issues, including information verification/ banking details verification while in other cases SASSA is struggling to locate the applicants as the contact numbers used during applications are no longer in use. The remaining one percent of the outstanding applications will be processed for payment as soon as we have completed the verification,” said the minister.
Zulu also said that she is aware of the challenges experienced by applicants at SAPO Offices. She said she is working jointly with the Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams to address current challenges experienced by applicants at SAPO offices. She said the CEO of SASSSA will provide more information on how they intend to deal with all the appeals they have received.
“We are experiencing challenges with regard to a number of unclaimed benefits despite the fact they have been approved. Currently, there are 40 584 unclaimed benefits mainly from the cash send or mobile payment option. The majority of applicants who opted for this payment channel have failed the cell phone verification process and this raises questions regarding compliance with RICA requirements. We have tried to reach out to applicants, with very little success. We therefore call on all applicants to collect their grants as this is intended to assist them to meet their basic needs,” said Zulu.
The minister added that COVID-19 has opened a new era digitising services like the automation of grant application, which SASSA is currently piloting. She said this will enable applicants to apply online without leaving the comfort of their own homes. She added that the initial pilot is limited to applications for grants for older persons, foster child grants and child support grants and that the disability related grants will be added at a later stage.
Zulu continued to say that the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the society is still emerging and that it will be felt for many years to come. She said the increase in unemployment, homelessness, gender-based violence and femicide and the concerns on the impact of the prolonged pandemic on mental health are some of the issues that threaten to worsen some of the prevailing social ills in our country.
“As the impact of this pandemic spread across our country, the capacity of the DSD Portfolio to respond to match the full scale of the challenges, especially in protecting those most in need, will continue to be tested. This presents us with an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things and to re-imagine the DSD Portfolio. The last 6-months have been a learning curve for all of us and we have demonstrated how much more we can achieve when we work together,” she concluded.