Calls for temporary disability grants to be extended until March 31
Johannesburg - The Black Sash has called for a disability grant extension until March 31.
In August last year, the minister of social development issued amendments which allowed for temporary disability grants, lapsing from July onwards, to be extended to December 31. The regulations allowed for a six month extension of medical approvals for disability grants granted prior to the March 27 Covid-19 lockdown, said Black Sash national advocacy manager Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker.
This extension ended on December 31, affecting 210 778 disability grant recipients. On December 28, the government shifted back to a level 3 national lockdown to contain the current deadly second wave of coronavirus.
In July last year, the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) announced that it had a total of 475 contracted medical officers to conduct assessments, but due to Covid19 protocols, the number of assessments per day was reduced from 40 to 20.
“Our health-care system and capacity remains dangerously overstretched and is struggling to cope with the pandemic, despite the president’s announcement that vacancies at public hospitals were being filled. In October 2020, Sassa staff, supported by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, was locked in an industrial relations dispute over the provision of personal protective equipment and other issues, including the disability grant services.
Sassa undertook to have a comprehensive system in place for resolving these issues by the end of January 2021. It is unclear at this stage how effectively and safely Sassa will process lapsed and new disability applications during this resurgence of a more potent strain of Covid-19, and with reduced capacity to perform medical assessments,” Abrahams-Fayker said.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) has a constitutional obligation in terms of the right to social security, to ensure that measures are in place for those entitled to a disability grant, without being hampered by administrative challenges during this health and humanitarian crisis.
“While the minister indicated that temporary disability grant recipients need to reapply, Sassa failed to communicate a clear procedure for how the medical assessments backlog will be dealt with. Recipients who are desperately trying to comply with the disability grant application process are now subjected to long, congested queues outside Sassa offices – potentially exposing them to Covid-19.
“Many of these recipients are already faced with health challenges, but now have to queue outside for hours without water and the necessary toilet and other facilities,” she added.
In its most recent press statement, Sassa notes that it has no funding to cover the R1.2 billion it will cost to extend these lapsed disability grants until the end of March 2021. However, for the 2020/21 financial year, the DSD and Sassa budgeted R24.4bn for disability grants. Between April and September last year an amount of R11.4bn (46.8%) was spent. Funds remaining, as at October 2020, were R12.9bn.
“It is highly unlikely that all these funds would have been spent between November and December 2020. Sassa has the funding to extend the temporary disability grants for at least three months, until March 2021. This will present Sassa with a window of opportunity to resolve its system and capacity challenges to deal with renewals for the lapsed and new disability grant applications safely and timeously, without infringing on the right to social security,” said Abrahams-Fayker.
“The projected figure of providing one million disability grants per annum has remained the same since 1994, and has not been adjusted to take into account population growth and increases in the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 18 and 59 years. This systemic oversight must be addressed in the 2021/22 Budget.”
The Black Sash has urged the department and Sassa to:
◆ Reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants for three months until March 2021.
◆ Ensure that all Sassa regional and district offices dedicate at least two days in the week for disability grant applications, while enforcing health and safety protocols.
◆ Expedite the system for medical assessments for disability grants per month, and to clearly communicate this process to applicants.
◆ Ensure that those awaiting a response to their applications from Sassa benefit from the general social relief of distress provisions.
◆ Establish a task team comprising government and civil society representatives to assist Sassa with resolving this crisis.