Great news: R350 grant recipients will now have ‘shorter queue times’ – here’s why.
The South African Post Office (SAPO) has confirmed that R350 grant beneficiaries will face much shorter waiting times at their branches this month, after a revised ‘queue system’ was introduced to help streamline the process. In a communication shared earlier, it was announced that those collecting the R350 grant can expect an easier experience the next time they attend a SASSA office to withdraw their funds… and there’s no need to panic about ‘deadlines’.
“SAPO has confirmed that the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant recipients will be paid all monies owed to them. In a statement issued on Thursday, SAPO said beneficiaries should also know that there is no deadline for them to collect their grant from its outlets. The funds that are waiting for them do not expire and they can collect it later if it suits them.”
The headline news from Thursday’s statement, however, concerns the much-maligned queue times: The Post Office has introduced a system to reduce waiting times for beneficiaries who collect their R350 social relief of distress grant in-person.
Separate queues at branches, a new ID number system, and more helpers inside branches will also make it easier for beneficiaries to comply with social distancing requirements. According to officials, this will help alleviate many of the issues raised by recipients in the past, who have been blighted by long waits, packed crowds, and financial uncertainty.
“Each day of the week is reserved for different beneficiaries depending on the last three digits of their ID numbers. Since 22 March is a public holiday, the days move one day forward after that One queue is reserved for beneficiaries of the R350 grant – while the other queue is for all other transactions. There are queue walkers who check ID numbers and to help customers to collect their grant on the correct day.”
SASSA grant increases have not been significant enough to alleviate household financial pain due to the rising cost of living. The government is contributing to the deepening financial crisis households are facing with its low increases to its SASSA (SA Social Security Agency) social grants that make it difficult for consumers to afford the rising price of food, electricity and transport.
This was the warning from Economic Justice and Dignity Group programme coordinator Mervyn Abrahams following the release of the organisation’s latest Household Affordability Index. The index, a survey that tracks the price of food across South Africa, showed that prices had risen on average by 3,8% over the past six months between September 2020 and February 2021.
“Twenty-twenty-one will see a deepening household affordability crisis with core household expenses like transport, electricity, and food, increasing way above inflation, whilst wage increases will continue to remain low,” Abrahams said.
Abrahams said SASSA grants had not been increased sufficiently to assist households with the rising cost of living.
“The Minister of Finance, and by implication, government, and the ANC, are contributing to this deepening crisis by setting the annual increments on the old age grant and child support grant, incomes used by households to buy food for children and pay for essential services, way below inflation in Budget 2021,” he said.
Abrahams said conditions at household level had worsened since the start of the pandemic.
“Jobs have been lost, wages cut, and money must spread further,” he said.
The February 2021 Household Affordability Index, which tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries, in Johannesburg (Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow), Durban (KwaMashu, Umlazi, Isipingo, Durban CBD and Mtubatuba), Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Delft and Dunoon), Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape), showed that:
In February 2021: The average cost of the Household Food Basket was R4 001,17
Month-on-month between January 2021 and February 2021 the average cost of the Household Food Basket decreased by R50,03 (-1,2%).
Over the past six months between September 2020 and February 2021 the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R144,84 (3,8%).
However, Abraham’s said the recent month-on-month decline in prices would be momentary and it also came on the back of a R48,78 price hike between December 2020 and January 2021.
“February is always a difficult time for consumers who have the additional pressures of finding money to cover education costs, and therefore have less money to spend on groceries. Retailers which target the low-income market tend to respond with more specials during this period,” Abrahams said.
“February also, consistent with our historical food price trends, tend to be lower due to subdued vegetable prices. We therefore expect the decrease in the cost of a household food basket in February 2021 to be short-lived, whilst cautioning that higher fuel prices and electricity prices, are likely to push food prices upwards in the near future.”
The South African Social Security Agency is calling upon frail recipients of the Old Age grant, the Disability and War Veterans to come forward and apply for Grant-in-Aid. This is a grant paid to beneficiaries who are frail and need to be cared for full time by another person. SASSA said in a statement that it cares about the conditions of some frail elderly people and not receiving proper tender care which can ascribed to many social ill factors in some communities.
“One of SASSA primary objectives is to conduct an awareness to teach families with frail grant recipients to come to any nearby SASSA office to apply for this additional grant meant to assist in paying extra medical bills, nutritious food and services of the person taking care of the frail grant recipient amongst others,”
In order to qualify, the applicant must be a receipt of an Old Age grant, Disability grant or a War Veterans grant, they must require regular attendance by another person because of their physical or mental disabilities and the beneficiaries must not be cared for in an institution that receive subsidy from the government.
SASSA said applicants who do not have an identity document, smart ID or birth certificate for the children involved in the application can still apply for a grant but must check with the nearest SASSA office on which alternative documents accepted for grant applications.
It added that if the application gets approved, beneficiaries will start getting payments within three months. The payments will be backdated to the day the application for the grant was completed. The public must also note that the grant-in-aid will be cancelled if the beneficiary is no longer in the care of another person, if they pass on, or if they get admitted to a state institution, and if the income or assets improve so much that they no longer qualify in terms of the means test.
For more information people can contact SASSA’S Customer Care Unit on (013) 754 – 9363/9439/9428 or toll free number: 0800 60 10 11 from 08:00 – 16:00 during week days Monday – Friday.
According to SASSA’s CEO Totsie Memela, pre-SONA and post-SONA engagements are held with different communities to understand how SASSA management is taking place at SASSA offices, what needs improvement, and how they can serve the people of South Africa better.
Memela believes that taking the SASSA service to South Africans is important, rather than letting them travel to SASSA offices. Travelling to SASSA offices can cost SASSA beneficiaries lots of money as many of them have to take multiple taxis.
SASSA continues to work on improving digital application systems to allow these applicants to save their money and apply for social grants from their homes. Memela also encouraged applicants to update their details online, if they have changed, to ensure that SASSA can contact them and to speed up the processing of their application.
By the end of March, applicants are encouraged to contact SASSA offices if they have not yet received their social grant payments. SASSA applicants are urged to regularly check their application status in the event of no payment.
Another three months for the R350 grants! President Cyril Ramaphosa announced this last night when he was delivering his State of the Nation Address. Ramaphosa said the grants have proven to be an effective and efficient short-term measure to reduce the immediate impact on the livelihoods of poor South Africans.
The R350 temporary social grant was introduced after the emergence of the deadly coronavirus in March last year, but it was cancelled towards the end of 2020. The government has since been under pressure to reinstate the temporary relief measure as the country remains under the adjusted alert level 3 lockdown.
Ramaphosa said the government has also decided to extend the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme, which is aimed at retrenched workers or those earning less than their normal salaries, under the auspices of the UIF.
“We have also decided to extend the Covid-19 TERS [Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme] benefit until March 15 2021, only for those sectors that have not been able to operate. The conditions of this extension and the sectors to be included will be announced after consultations with social partners at Nedlac,” said the president.
He added that the National Treasury will work with its partners and stakeholders on improvements to the loan guarantee scheme. Ramaphosa said this will enable the scheme to address the realities of SMMEs and other businesses as they strive to recover.
“We will work with our social partners to ensure that these and other interventions provide relief to those who most need it,” said Ramaphosa.
Social Development Minister, Lindiwe Zulu recently said that discussions are underway to see if the government’s R350 special grant can be provided again. The grant, which was implemented last year for unemployed citizens who were not receiving any other forms of social relief expired on Sunday.
Zulu also said that there was a possibility that the R350 COVID-19 grant could be made available again. She added that the talks with the relevant structures to look at the budget and see if nothing can be done have never stopped.
It’s not clear where the government will get more money from but Zulu said that she hoped that the grant would return as millions of South Africans were dependent on it.
“It’s no longer an issue of ‘are you going to do it’, no, we are not there anymore. We’re now at what legislation is needed for it, what financial model it’s supposed to be, how we’re going to get the money…” said Zulu.
Meanwhile, the South African Federation of Trade Unions’ Zwelinzima Vavi has called for the funds to be increased to R550 and distributed for another five months while the government is preparing to introduce the basic income grant. Vavi said cutting off the grant will plunge marginalised and unemployed people even further into poverty.
Vavi said that it is in the best interest of vulnerable citizens to have the grant extended, looking at the county’s ailing economy.
Although the R350 grant ended, beneficiaries awaiting funds will still be able to collect this at any point in the future, but new applications will no longer be processed.
“The grant cushioned the blow for many who are destitute. Discontinuing this form of aid will mean that millions of citizens will have to fend for themselves. The impact is going to be big. No matter how small the R350 was, it made some difference and now they are being thrown to the wolves.”
A nationwide strike is planned for the end of next month in protest the discontinuation of the 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.
The national opposition and the Western Cape government have both demanded that Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu be held accountable for a chaotic approach to managing the temporary disability grants. The payments lapsed this month, leaving hundreds of thousands of SASSA clients without financial support.
Things have unravelled extremely quickly for SASSA, culminating in some disheartening scenes. Huge queues formed outside of the department’s offices in the Western Cape and KZN, creating some very serious health concerns during this pandemic.
This month, SASSA suspended more than 210 000 temporary disability grants and care dependency grants. Persons with disabilities were told they would have to reapply for their grants ‘in-person’, despite soaring COVID-19 rates. Applicants were also informed to bring an updated medical note with them, approved by a registered doctor. This chaotic plan caused massive queues outside SASSA offices, creating potential super-spreader events. Elderly and infirmed recipients have been left to sleep on the streets and wait in lines for hours in the scorching heat.
The DA is not pleased with the sight of desperate citizens having to risk their own well-being to prove they are entitled to this disability grant from SASSA. DA’s Social Development Shadow Minister, Bridget Masango has issued an ultimatum: “Zulu must face a Parliamentary inquiry or resign!”
“While South Africa is struggling to cope with a second wave resurgence of Covid-19 infections, hundreds of desperate and vulnerable social grant beneficiaries queued for hours at South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) offices across the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to re-apply for their lapsed disability grants,” said Masango.
Masango said the massive queues at SASSA offices are potential Covid-19 super spreaders and that Lindiwe Zulu must take full responsibility for how all of this unfolded. She also called upon Minister Zulu to come of hiding and appear before Parliament to account for her failures, adding that if Zulu cannot do this she must step down.
These changes have taken a serious toll in the Western Cape, where over 50 000 people have had their relief funds stopped. More than 25% of the temporary disability grants go to citizens in this province, and Gillion Bosman – a representative of the regional government – has accused Lindiwe Zulu of ‘violating basic human rights.
“For residents of the Western Cape, and Minister Lindiwe Zulu is allowing for the lapse of at least 52 000 disability grants. This number represents the very meagre means to live for persons with disabilities in the province, who will be unable to access the funds they need to survive. This is unacceptable, and tantamount to an infringement on the rights of residents,” said Bosman.
“The lapsing of these grants has led to a desperate situation. Individuals have to seek medical certificates and reapply at SASSA application venues, all at a time when our health sector is under strain and Covid-19 infections are rife – but more resources are put into patrolling quiet beaches than ensuring Covid-19 protocols are being followed at SASSA offices,” he said.
The government has agreed to open new applications for temporary disability grants following mounting pressure from opposition parties and civil society organisations. Recently, Sassa appealed to more than 200 000 beneficiaries of the potential temporary disability grants who failed to make the December deadline, to urgently re-apply for the grants.
The announcement came after DA spokesperson on social development, Bridget Masango threatened to write to the chair of the portfolio committee on social Development, Mondli Gungubele, to urgently request a meeting to deal with the looming disability grant crisis, where the Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu must account for how her department intended to handle the crisis.
Masango also wanted Zulu to provide a guarantee that the grant reassessment deadlines will be extended at least until March.
Temporary Disability Grants that were supposed to lapse from February last year were extended to December 31 last year, in order to cushion affected beneficiaries against the pressures brought about by the State of National Disaster and the subsequent lockdown. The cost of continuing to pay the grants is in excess of R1.5 billion.
Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said that the government will have to spend an additional R1.2bn in order to continue the payment of the grants until the end March. He said a disability grant may be awarded as either a permanent grant, which may or may not be subject to a medical review after a certain period of time. He also explained that permanent disability grants are awarded for conditions which impact on the applicant’s ability to work for a period longer than 12 months.
“Where the disability or medical condition is likely to improve with treatment or other interventions, the grant may be awarded for a temporary period of between 6 and 12 months. After this time, the grant lapses, in accordance with the conditions set in the Social Assistance Act, 2004,” Letsatsi said.
He said the re-application required a new medical assessment to confirm whether the condition warranted a grant. Letsatsi said Sassa staff then takes the personal and contact details of the client so they can contact them to confirm when they could return to the office to complete the process.
He said the information in the referral letter is used to inform the Sassa doctor who, in turn, is required to complete an assessment and recommend whether the grant should be awarded.
Then Sassa, having taken all factors into account, including the medical assessment and after applying the means test, decides on whether the grant should be awarded or not. The new award may be for a temporary or permanent period, depending on the circumstances of each applicant.
“It is important for any applicant for a disability grant to be aware that if the grant is awarded for a temporary period, or not approved, he/she has the right to request Sassa to reconsider the decision,” said Letsatsi.
He explained that this must be done within 90 days of being informed of the outcome of the application and also said that if the reconsidered decision is still unfavourable, then the applicant has the right to appeal to the Independent Appeals Tribunal, he said this too has to be done within 90 days of receiving the reconsidered outcome.
Letsatsi said Sassa will continue to do everything in its power to provide services to those who need them, adding that all citizens and staff visiting Sassa’s offices are required to adhere to Covid-19 health protocols.
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.