De Weever plans to change social welfare and medical aid law

POSTED: 10/25/11 3:16 PM

St. Maarten – Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Cornelius de Weever plans to amend the law on social welfare and medical aid so that certain categories of people will not be taken off the recipients list. His announcement is part of a response to questions posed by Members of Parliament on October 3.

The current law social welfare and medical aid stipulates that people are granted the aid for a specific period and must file for renewal three months before that period is set to expire. So if it is one year, people must apply for a renewal nine months into receiving the aid. There is no possibility for automatic rollovers, so people do not have to reapply. There is support in every faction for this to change and the minister has pointed out that he is working at this change. Special attention will be given to people who are 60 and over when the law is changed.

The change in this law is part of an entire change where it comes to social welfare and medical aid, based on a review that the minister conducted when he took office. That review has also led to an “extensive” cleanup of the social welfare registry, the establishment of committee to handle appeals when people are removed from the social welfare registry or their medical aid is discontinued, a decision to renovate the Department of Labor and Social Welfare and the hiring of new staff. The latter includes an Administrative Assistant and a Social Worker. It was also decided that the employees will also get courses to upgrade their skills.

The minister also announced that the department is looking at ways to improve the renewal process because the current Excel database does not provide an automatic update, when clients need to apply. One option being considered is house visits, as was suggested on October 3 by Independent MP Frans Richardson and repeated again today by National Alliance Member of Parliament Louie Laveist.

Next to these efforts the minister stressed, “We have to clean up the register and eliminate inconsistent practices and I have to be financially responsible so that future generations can be assured of the service if they fall on hard times.”

The other plans for improving service are using the Integrated Neighborhood Development Program to take the delivery of social services into the districts, creating a 24 hour crisis care hotline and automating the administration of social services so that the response time can be reduced. The ministry is also using funding from the Social Economic Initiative and its own adult on the job program to get people who are receiving social aid into the workforce.

Heavy criticism

The National Alliance faction, who requested the meeting, was not happy with the minister’s answers on the automatic rollover and the cleanup of the registry.

MP Laveist found the answer difficult to accept.

“I beg that the minister understand that both I and people are not pleased with the answer,” he said.

MP Hyacinth Richardson, also in the National Alliance faction, went further and said that removing people from the list was unprecedented and accused the minister of not taking his job seriously.

“Stop the travelling and touring and take care of the people’s business. It is unbelievable what has happened,” H. Richardson said.

Service

Members of Parliament also stressed that they want the Department of Social Welfare to give better service to the public.

“I think what is important right now, and now I’m speaking directly to the staff in the department, is that we put politics aside and give service,” National Alliance MP George Pantophlet said

Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge pressed the minister to expedite the renewals of especially pensioners and applauded the minister’s plans to “adjust the structures so it meets the needs of the people.”

Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin also pressed the ministry to work on the renewals but urged that they stay away from bending or twisting the law. He also suggested that the minister continue with the cleanup of the registry, but said there should be caution in handling the elderly as they are “more in need.”

Independent Member of Parliament Frans Richardson also wants the minister to follow procedure and asked if parliament could play a role in expediting his planned changes to the rules governing social welfare and medical aid so that people can be better served.

“But next to changing laws we need to provide service or it becomes a problem. I think the staff in the department need to ask themselves if they are giving a just service. Not because you have the law in your hands, you can ill-treat people,” F. Richardson said.

United People’s Party MP Johan Leonard gave four suggestions for improving service at the department and pressed the minister to implement his ideas before the end of the year. The suggestions are creating a one stop center for the elderly to get all the documents they need when applying for renewals and conducting home visits so they can fill out the forms there, getting young adults on welfare a job, having the government pay the bills of people on financial aid directly and educating the public on the rules and procedures for social welfare.

United People’s Party faction leader Romain Laville added, “There is an overwhelming need for service and that must be an overwhelming factor as we move forward. Also department heads must understand that they are to follow the minister’s vision and I would encourage you that if they don’t follow, that you send them home, let think about things and then come back.”

He’d later add that the suspension should be without pay.

Law Change

MPs have also urged the minister to take a look at a conflict in two laws. On the hand the law on admittance and expulsion states that people who get a residence permit must remain ensured at all times and be able to provide for themselves. However a person who has lived here for five years and is granted permanent residence can apply for social and medical aid. The MPs who pressed for this to be reviewed are Roy Marlin – who had raised the matter on October 3 – , George Pantophlet and Dr. Lloyd Richardson. The latter MP called the review “a very intricate situation” and queried what effect this has on the budget. R. Marlin also said caution is necessary with this conflict in the law.

“I don’t believe that we can carry the burden unless we do something like drastically increase the premiums,” R. Marlin said.

Monday’s meeting has been adjourned until Tuesday afternoon, when the Minister will provide answers to the questions presented in the first round.

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