CAPE TOWN - While civil organisations continue to pile pressure on the Department of Social Development (DSD) over the decision not to reopen the applications for the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, the department has defended the move, saying it had stayed within the budget and ensured only those eligible received the grant.
This comes as MPs were given little to no details about the new criteria to apply for the grant despite Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu publishing the regulations last Friday, stating that anyone with an income more than R350 would be ineligible to receive the grant.
None of the MPs insisted on the criteria when told Zulu would hold a press briefing to explain the new criteria for reapplication, and that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) would make a presentation on its budget next week.
DA MP Delmaine Chesley Chrsitians expressed concern about the impact the delays in beneficiaries receiving the grant would have.
“What impact will it have in these times when KwaZulu-Natal has seen such devastation?” Christians said.
Brenda Sibeko, deputy director-general for Comprehensive Social Security, said the grants were previously issued in terms of the legislation enacted during the national state of disaster.
According to the new regulations, beneficiaries would be eligible if they indicated R350 threshold income per month.
The regulations also provide for verification of income in bank accounts in order to make the final determination.
“The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress may not be paid to a person for a period exceeding three successive months at a time, without confirmation that the person still meets the criteria set out in regulation 2, and may be extended for further periods not exceeding three months at a time,” reads the notice.
Sibeko said more than two million applications had been received since the electronic application process opened last Saturday.
“We had to create a new legislative platform since the disaster has been lifted. We had to put in our social assistance legislation in that regard
“It has taken quite a while. I know there is a concern in the community when this thing is to start,” Sibeko said.
Sibeko also said Sassa had since opened the application process after concurrence was obtained from the National Treasury.
“The key issue is that we have to ensure we stay within the allocation of R44 billion. We have to come up with the criteria that is quite similar, but there are additional things.”
Zulu confirmed that they would communicate the due processes soon.
“We will communicate particularly why we needed people to reapply because we have absolutely no intention of not paying the people who deserve the R350.
“One of the challenges we have been facing is some people who got back to work still get the R350. It is a problem for us but it is a question of fixing our system. The challenge we have, obviously, all the time is always about the checks and balances from the information point of data we have and the system we use to make sure we don’t pay people who are not supposed to be paid. We have to be responsible because the Auditor-General is sitting on our case about people (who are) not supposed to get the money. It is our responsibility to make sure that people get the money,” Zulu said.
In a joint statement, civil organisations Black Sash, Institute for Economic Justice, Social Policy Initiative and #PayTheGrants said numerous eligible people have likely missed out on their April SRD grant payment after DSD and Sassa halted application processing for April without explanation, despite the fact that they were clearly mandated under transitional measures gazetted on April 4.
They said they had written to Zulu and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana on April 22 ahead of the announcement of the new regulations, requesting an urgent update on the status of payments and application processing of the grant, and demanding that immediate provisions be made for the continued payment of the grant to beneficiaries, as well as resumed application processing.
“Treasury and DSD are pulling the rug out from underneath a significant number of the most vulnerable, without warning or consultation. Friday’s gazetted regulations bring the SRD grant out of the national state of disaster introduced under the pandemic, and into the Social Assistance Act. Grant beneficiaries who had been expecting to receive their entitlements for April will now need to reapply under new, restricted, eligibility criteria. However, the regulations explicitly state that applications must be lodged before the 15th of the month. It appears that by suspending April processing and payments, and now wiping the slate clean of previously approved grant obligations, the April SRD grants are in jeopardy for millions of South Africans,” said the organisations.
They said while the Treasury and DSD may have saved a lot of money in April, this will be at the expense of the poor, and together with other aspects of the regulations, was a violation of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address commitment.