NASSAU, The Bahamas – Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Frankie A. Campbell, told Parliamentarians Monday that his Ministry and its Departments and Divisions have undertaken a myriad of measures to provide assistance to those Bahamians as the country continues its fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Minister Campbell said officials have endeavored to use every avenue to remain accessible not only to their regular clients, but also to persons within the community of persons with disabilities, the elderly, those in the tourism sector who find themselves on reduced workweeks as a result of the closure of the tourism sector, and, “those who are generally in need.”
The Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development, is comprised of the Department of Social Services, the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services, the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and Urban Renewal, along with numerous Divisions and Units.
Minister Campbell said while the Department of Social Services is responsible for, and has been tasked with, ensuring that the requisite assistance is provided to persons in need of assistance, a “team effort” is being utilized.
Minister Campbell said the Department’s response to COVID-19 also takes into account the needs of the country’s most vulnerable groups of clients, consisting of its children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. He said to facilitate delivery of services to the country’s senior citizens and persons with disabilities who are clients, officials have increased the number of vehicles in its fleet “to avoid [their] being exposed to the large number of clients who visit our various centres on a daily and monthly basis.” Approval was granted and vehicles were rented in New Providence, in Grand Bahama and in Abaco.
The Department also made it possible for persons from the community of persons with disabilities who are not clients of the Department to provide their information to Social Workers at the Disability Affairs Division via telephone so that they could receive emergency food assistance where necessary. They will be required to present IDs when they come to collect these coupons or when the coupons are delivered to them.
Contact numbers for the Disability Affairs Division are: 325-2251/2.
Minister Campbell also announced that persons with disabilities under the age of 16 who normally receive their services every two months, had their April assistance advanced to them in the month of March to facilitate whatever preparations they needed to make. Similar arrangements were also made for persons receiving foster care subsistence.
“I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to encourage the community of persons with disabilities to register online with the Ministry’s link on the Government’s website www.bahamas.gov.bs. They may also email the Disabilities Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Disability Affairs Commission can be contacted on a 24-hour cell by Whatsapp at: 376-8328. We have endeavored to use every avenue to remain accessible, not only to our regular clients, but also to persons with disabilities and those who are generally in need.”
Minister Campbell told House Members that officials from the Department of Social Services have also been working -- in partnership with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Ministry of Health and various non-governmental organizations -- to promote food safety and security.
“Many of these organizations are challenged with being able to get hot meals and food parcels to persons that are home bound, and to persons who frequent their establishments daily,” Minister Campbell said.
“I want to reassure our partners that as we reevaluate our positions and as we reconsider the needs of our people, we are also reviewing our assistance to them and we will do all that we can to continue to nurture and strengthen those partnerships that we value so much. I want to assure them that they will hear from us in short order.”
Minister Campbell said the Ministry and the Department has also put measures in place to ensure that the assistance normally given to the seniors home, the children’s homes, the Williemae Pratt Centre for Girls and Simpson Penn Centre for Boys continue uninterrupted at this time.
Additionally, Minister Campbell said, the Department of Social Services continues to provide assistance to persons in need by assessing them for Emergency, Temporary or Permanent Food Assistance. He said the Department also continues to assist with utilities and that financial assistance for medical procedures are ongoing.
“Additional assistance for rent, and I want to pause there, Mr. Speaker, because coming out of this I would have heard some concerns about persons who are homeless. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Social Services has always made itself available to assist persons seeking rental assistance and so I say here for the record that anyone who is out there who is serious about wanting assistance in that regard, can access that very same line item.”
Minister Campbell said many of the Department of Social Services clients who receive food assistance (at present the programme is servicing just under 10,000 persons) are armed with Bank of The Bahamas Pre-paid cards upon which funds are uploaded monthly. Minister Campbell said the most recent upload took place on March 27 (2020).
“I am aware that there are a number of persons whose cards have expired in the interim. Those concerns have been expressed and are being addressed. I want to thank the staff at the Bank of The Bahamas who are working with us to renew those cards as soon as possible.”
Minister Campbell said the Department has also been charged with providing special food assistance to those persons who – as a result of the closure of the tourism sector -- found themselves on reduced workweeks.
“This for us is uncharted territory. We initially established an email address asking persons to email us so that they can get the subsistence. In light of the fact that we were -- while wanting to assist found it necessary to promote physical distancing -- within a week, up to Saturday past, we had more than 3,000 persons throughout The Bahamas apply to that email address. I want those persons to know that they will begin getting responses starting today and I am advised, and I know that my team is listening and will not make a liar out of me, that as early as this Wednesday, coupons will be ready and persons will be contacted and advised (a) how they can collect those coupons or (b) how the coupons may be delivered to them.”
Minister Campbell said he would have also been advised that there is some concern that some of the measures put in place to protect citizens from the COVID-19 Pandemic “may have put some persons in some environments that ought to be safe but are not necessarily safe because it is in those home environments where some persons are abused and possibly worse.”
“Mr. Speaker, I want to say to the abusers that no time is a good time to commit acts of abuse. This is a time when they should reflect on the errors of their past and try to make amends and so I trust where some mistakes would have been made in the past, those perpetrators would repent of their ways and seek to build those bridges that they would have broken down.
“The Department of Social Services has two National Hotline numbers and they are: 322-2763 or 422-2763. We continue to cherish our partnership with the Crisis Centre and their number is: 328-0922. The public is encouraged to use these contacts as required,” Minister Campbell added. (BIS Photo/Kemuel Stubbs)