Subsidy shock for Eastern Cape welfare organisations as stipends are pulled during lockdown
Hundreds of organisations assisting the elderly, dealing with mental health cases and running early childhood centres face an uncertain future after the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development announced that they would not be paid the bulk of their subsidies during lockdown.
The Eastern Cape Department of Social Development has informed several non-profit organisations in the province that they will not be receiving stipends for the lockdown period, as they are considered not to have rendered any services. However, the organisations – which have been feeding the elderly and looking after patients with mental health problems – have hit back, saying that the department has never enquired about what they have been doing during lockdown. This comes as the payment of subsidies across the board are delayed again, just like in previous years, as the department failed to finalise service level agreements in time.
The signing of these agreements and the payment of subsidies has, according to a letter by the head of the department, Ntombi Baart, been delayed due to “the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 lockdown”.
Baart said in the letter that the lockdown had “slowed the process of signing of service level agreements”.
In previous years, the department was also very late in finalising service level agreements, because, according to them, their old IT system failed, their new IT system failed, their building was condemned, battery acid from a server room damaged all their files, and payments had to be finalised manually after the failure of the IT system.
According to Baart’s letter, residential facilities for older people will be paid in full as beneficiaries live at the facilities. However, community-based services – mostly providing food to impoverished elderly people or those who are unable to look after themselves – will be restricted to stipends for caregivers only.
This, according to the letter, is being done because the lockdown regulations, announced when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the outbreak of coronavirus infections in the country to be a national disaster, severely restricted the movement of the elderly and the rendering of other services. During the initial hard lockdown, the movement of all but essential workers was restricted.
On June 3, the declaration of a state of disaster was extended to July 15. Despite a ruling by the Pretoria High Court that regulations made for Level 4 and 3 under this declaration were unconstitutional, the regulations remain in force pending an appeal by government.
Baart said that residential facilities providing care and support to people with disabilities will be paid in full, as beneficiaries are resident within the facilities.
She said only community care workers engaged in the fight against HIV/Aids will receive a stipend, as all other services are considered to be restricted under lockdown.
Early childhood development centres will receive stipends for administration but not for nutrition or school stimulation programmes.
Cluster foster homes and child protection organisations will receive stipends.
Baart added that the decision will be revised as lockdown regulations are adjusted.
Maureen Andreka of the Algoa Bay Council for the Aged said they went to considerable expense to protect their community-based workers, who continued supplying afternoon meals and food parcels for the elderly during lockdown. She said many elderly people who struggle financially are dependent on this service. Also, they could not simply stop assisting those who are part of “lunch clubs”.
She added that kitchens had to keep going to provide food for people in homes, and also for the elderly who still live in their own homes but are dependent on food supplied by her organisation for their midday meal.
“We receive R200 per person per month to provide this service, and now it looks like we will have to do without it. There has been no consultation with us on whether we continued providing this service in the community during lockdown. We had to pay staff and rent.
“Our service level agreements were not signed on time. This agreement contains a provision that there must be three months’ notice from the department if they wish to stop a subsidy,” she said. “They are ignoring their own agreement.”
“Operating during lockdown cost us more than usual because we had to supply personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser to our staff, and also do deliveries of food where it was possible,” she said.
Andreka said many organisations rendering similar services in the Eastern Cape are in the same boat.
“I have asked around and it looks like the other provinces are not doing this. It is only the Eastern Cape,” she said.
Hilary Bolton from Cheshire Homes for the Disabled said while they are not hit by the restriction in subsidies, the department owed them R160,000 in outstanding subsidies.
“We have not received a single mask or other personal protective equipment from them,” she said. “They have just abandoned us.”
The Cleary Park home currently has 43 residents. “We had to organise special transport for our workers because we are concerned about the infection risk on public transport,” she said. “Our staff has been absolutely remarkable at this time. There is so much love,” Bolton added.
“We are supposed to be in partnership with the department,” Bolton said. “They are not rendering any of the services that we are doing. We are doing it on their behalf,” she added.
Gary Koekemoer, chairperson of the board for Port Elizabeth Mental Health, said the drama of the department paying non-profit organisations plays out every year.
“We have social workers who work with mental health patients. They are state subsidised. Two or three years ago they cut our subsidies by about 50%. We have a court case in the works about that. But the issue is that you are never quite sure what will happen with the department,” he added.
“This is the first time we have heard from the department since lockdown. The language in their letter is so obscure that we do not know what they mean,” he said.
“One of our homes is funded by the state and it looks like this facility will still be funded – but the letter is completely silent about what is going to happen to our social workers,” he said. “It will cause chaos because of what has happened before. There is an unfortunate history to this matter of the state just cutting social worker posts,” he said.
“We are gravely concerned. Our Motherwell centre (where the organisation looks after young people with mental health issues) is continuously trashed by thieves breaking into the building. We are at the point of abandoning this. You need qualified social workers who can go into impoverished communities.
“Given all that is happening, people have really been struggling with mental health issues. There have been job losses in the community and gender-based violence. For government to do this at this time is truly unconscionable,” he added.
Eastern Cape Department of Social Development spokesperson, Gcobani Muswana, did not respond to requests for comment. MC
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