Employees across the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development are continuing to fulfill the needs of their regular clients while working to address the influx of new requests for social assistance as a result of the presence of the COVID-19 Pandemic in The Bahamas.
These include employees from the Department of Social Services, the Department of Gender and Family Affairs, the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services and Urban Renewal, in addition to key divisions and entities such as the Disability Affairs Division, Community Affairs Division, Community Support Services Division, and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and its Secretariat.
Employees continue to work on the front-lines of the government of The Bahamas’ overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic along with the other government agencies that have been declared essential services.
Social assistance refers to government programs that provide a minimum level of income support to individuals and households living in poverty. These programs lend support either in the form of direct cash transfers or through a variety of in-kind benefits, for example, food coupons and certain other subsidies.
Department representatives are called upon to provide assistance to regular clients in areas such as disability allowance, foster care assistance, food assistance for families, older persons and persons with disabilities, and assistance with payments of utilities (electricity and water), among others.
Personnel are also on call around the clock to provide access for persons in the event any domestic violence and child abuse matters occur, while others are working within communities to help address anger management and temperament issues.
Staff assigned to the various residential facilities for children and senior citizens, in addition to the juvenile facilities, are also at work ensuring that these facilities continue to operate at an optimum level. Rental cars that are used for deliveries during the day are also being used to transport staff in need of transportation, to the various facilities in order to accommodate their shifts.
The Department of Social Services continues to provide regular food assistance to its regular clients, in addition to emergency food assistance for walk-in clients seeking food assistance as a result of the presence of the COVID-19 Pandemic in The Bahamas.
Those latter persons are provided with a $50 food voucher to address their immediate need, and are later assessed by social assistance providers to be placed on the temporary food assistance program upon which the client can be placed for up to three years.
Social Services personnel, who have been allowed to work from home in order to follow the social distancing guidelines – have joined colleagues at the centers in ensuring that assessments on the many new applicants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are done as quickly as possible.
The department’s regular clients who receive food assistance through The Bank of The Bahamas VISA prepaid card, have funds uploaded to the approximately 8,000 cards each month for recipients throughout The Bahamas.
The department has also been managing the provision of special food assistance to the thousands of persons in the tourism industry who were placed on reduced work hours with effect from March 1, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; and has been working in partnership with the National Emergency Management Agency, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, and various non-government organizations to promote food safety and security.
Meanwhile, team members from the Urban Renewal Department continue to have a presence in the communities within which Urban Renewal Centres have been established. Teams have distributed food packages to senior citizens utilizing curbside distribution policies, all while ensuring that the Ministry of Health’s protocols were strictly followed in the collection, preparation and distribution of those food packages.
Additionally, Dr. Eric Fox, an anger management and temperance expert and consultant with the Urban Renewal Commission, who has done tremendous work in the inner-city communities over the past 32 years, continues to perform those services within the various communities — utilizing various forms of social media and other communication to remain “in close contact” with graduates and participants of his program.
The executive director of Teen Challenge, Dr. Fox, has also reached out to those members of the public at-large who may need his assistance, while adhering to the personal distancing protocols.
The ministry has also made provisions for the community of persons with disabilities who are not clients of the department to provide their information via telephone to the social workers at the Disability Affairs Division so that they can receive emergency food assistance. They are required to show their ID’s upon collection. Persons with disabilities can contact the Disability Affairs Division at telephone: 325-2251/2 for assistance.
Additionally, officials at the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, and its secretariat, have also been diligently working to ensure that the needs of the community of persons with disabilities are being met.
The commission has established a 24-hour call and WhatsApp line at 376-8328. The community of persons with disabilities can also register online through the ministry’s link on the government’s website: www.bahamas.gov.bs.
They may also email the Disabilities Commission at Disabilitiescommission@bahamas.gov.bs.
“The ministry’s response to COVID-19, through its various departments and divisions, takes into account the needs of our most vulnerable groups of clients consisting of our children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, in addition to our regular clients and those persons who now find themselves in need of social assistance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Frankie A. Campbell said.
“We have endeavored to use every avenue to remain accessible to not only our community of persons with disabilities, but those who are generally in need.
“I extend my sincere thanks to my staff who have persevered through the increased demands of Hurricane Dorian (2019) and have now risen, yet again, to the challenge of executing their normal duties while providing special assistance to those in need as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19. Many do so amidst fears for their own safety and that of their families,” Campbell added.