The Black Sash has called on the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) to extend the lapsed temporary disability grants for another three months while the agency fixes the problems causing the long queues of people sleeping outside its offices.
The organisation also wants Sassa to expedite the system of medical assessments and communicate the requirements properly.
Black Sash questioned Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s claims that the department could not afford the R1.2 billion required for another extension after temporary disability grants, lapsing from July onwards, were extended to 31 December.
“ … For the 2020/2021 financial year, the Department of Social Development and Sassa budgeted R24.4 billion for disability grants. Between April and September 2020, an amount of R11.4 billion (46.8%) was already spent. Funds remaining, as at October 2020, was R12.9 billion,” said Black Sash in a statement.
“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.”
The organisation said that, in July 2020, Sassa announced that it had a total of 475 contracted medical officers to conduct new assessments, but due to Covid-19 protocols, assessments dropped from 40 a day to 20 a day.
In addition, people who have to reapply have not had the process explained to them clearly, which is causing severe congestion.
The Western Cape’s Department of Social Development said that, while the grants were not within its purview, the majority of the people affected are in the Western Cape.
Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez stated that she and the CEO of Sassa, Totsie Memela Khambula, and the regional executive manager for the Sassa Cape regions, Bandile Maqetuka, met on Wednesday to find out what their plans are to deal with the backlog.
Fernandez said she was told that Sassa had instituted a 10-point plan:
- Putting a booking system in place for screenings and assessments to prevent people from having to sleep outside Sassa offices;
- Sassa will phone care dependency grant beneficiaries to complete their respective application forms;
- Sassa offices are liaising with the provincial Department of Health regarding support with the medical assessments. Additional doctors are also being sought from the Eastern Cape to assist;
- Increase the number of assessment days to fast track the number of assessments being completed;
- Sassa is in the process of establishing alternative assessments sites and the use of referral forms for applications to take the service closer to beneficiaries;
- Sassa head office has committed to providing sufficient funding for the implementation of these plans;
- Improved queue management and extra staff on duty;
- Introduce cash payments of Social Relief of Distress grants into private bank accounts of beneficiaries;
- Overtime staff;
- Variation from current set grant type days to provide for extra time/days for temporary disability grants.
Sassa’s Western Cape spokesperson, Shivani Wahab, said recipients were told that the extension would end at the end of December and they would need to reapply, but the second surge of the Covid-19 pandemic complicated matters.
However, measures to address the backlog include setting up an appointment system and asking the police to help monitor the large groups of people gathering at the offices.
For the Western Cape, there is a total of 53 000 lapsed disability grants, as of January 2021.
Fernandez stated there was a further 36 827 in KwaZulu-Natal, out of around 200 000 countrywide.
She explained that all disability grant applications are subjected to a medical assessment and, upon completion of this medical assessment, the grant is awarded either on a permanent or temporary basis.
“The high number of lapsed disability grants has caused an influx of clients at all Sassa contact points,” she said.
In the meantime, the Western Cape government’s health department would monitor its new Covid-19 cases to see if there were links between new infections and waiting at the Sassa offices.