Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has called for an urgent explanation and resolution of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) disability and care grants “debacle”, which has left desperate people queuing to reapply after grants were stopped at the end of December.
“This debacle is keeping food off people’s tables,” Winde said during the Western Cape government’s weekly briefing on Covid-19 in the province.
“And, it is becoming a [Covid-19] super-spreader in itself.
“…Really it is unacceptable and unfair on the citizens across the country, but of course the citizens in this province too,” said Winde, calling for the situation to be defused.
He said he will demand answers from Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, and if he does not get action within the next 24 hours, he will “escalate it”.
The province’s Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez posted pictures that she said were taken outside the Eerste River Sassa offices in Cape Town, and called for urgent attention to the situation.
The EFF also drew attention to the plight of people sleeping on pieces of cardboard in the hopes of getting into the building and receiving some service.
Long queues have formed as people try to reapply for their temporary disability grants.
Western Cape Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said the province needed to re-process around 53 000 of the more than 200 000 grants that were automatically extended to cushion the blow of the lockdown, but which ended on the last day of December.
She said Sassa was concerned about the situation, particularly for people who were sleeping rough in the hope of being served.
“It’s not okay for this to be happening,” she said.
She explained that the situation was being compounded by having fewer staff than usual at the 60 offices in the Western Cape.
This was because of office closures due to contamination, staffers being ill with Covid-19 and the requirement to have less staff to maintain the required social distancing protocols to keep staff safe.
She said the Bellville office, for example, had to close temporarily due to a case of Covid-19 in the office, but will be reopening again.
“We [have] limited staff and we can only do so much in terms of queue management and crowd control,” she said.
One of the hurdles that applicants must cross is the provision of a full medical examination report to establish whether the condition claimed for is still present. This then has to be verified.
Extra doctors will be needed to help clear the sheer number of people whose claims need to be verified all at once, and talks are taking place with the Department of Health to bring private doctors on board to help with this.
People who get to the counter in the coming days should expect their details to be taken and to be given an appointment. They will then be asked to return on the appointed date with a full medical examination report to establish whether their condition warrants a repeat of the grant.
Wahad said in cases of clear financial distress, some applicants could be given the special Social Relief of Distress Grant until their disability grant application is finalised.
Unfortunately, the planned rollout of online applications was disrupted by last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, so the system is not live yet and that is not an option for people with access to the internet.
Due to limited numbers of staff being allowed in the offices, staff members are being rotated so that those who would normally be in-office to assist with queue management, or do back-office work or work from home continue with the work that needs to be done.
She said Cabinet could not extend the temporary grants again automatically because of a lack of funds.
In December, Zulu said the government will need R1.2 billion to extend the grants again, to March 2021.
Temporary disability grants usually lapse after a certain period and recipients have to go for a medical examination to see whether the condition has improved or whether they qualify to keep receiving the grant.
It reportedly cost R41 823 960 to extend the temporary disability grants to December, from October.
In reply to a question from the DA in December, Zulu said it would cost R62 735 940 to pay 11 243 care dependency grants for the following three months, and R1 176 141 240 to extend the 210 778 temporary disability grants.
The R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant is expected to end at the end of January.
Gillion Bosman, chairperson of the Western Cape Legislature’s Standing Committee on Social Development, said he intended sending a letter to Sassa asking that it explain itself to the committee and stating what it is doing to alleviate the situation.