The hundreds of persons who lined up over the past week outside the Social Welfare Department to be registered for a $200 relief under the newly-established Interim Assistance Benefit show just how dependent many Vincentians are on state funds for their day-to-day survival.

The Interim Assistance Benefit is part of the government’s Recovery and Stimulus Package to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is available to vulnerable persons who have been affected by the Covid pandemic and it is aimed at capturing persons who were not previously on the “poor relief” list.

“It is meant to be an add-on to what we traditionally called ‘Poor Relief’- the social benefit which we provide, but without those restrictions. You don’t have to be a senior citizen. What you have to establish is that you are vulnerable and your vulnerability has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic,” finance minister Camillo Gonsalves told reporters at cabinet room recently.

Commenting on the situation, New Democratic Party (NDP) vice president and Central Kingstown Member of Parliament (MP) Major St Clair Leacock commented on the situation as he addressed a public meeting organized by his constituency council Tuesday night.

“When I drove around town today and I looked at the lines outside the social welfare department and I see the hundreds of people literally climbing over the backs of one to the other for a meagre two hundred dollars.  I say meagre, and people might take exception to it. But it is amazing after twenty years what a $200 means to so many Vincentians from a government that says that they had created an education revolution and you could see so little evidence of the revolution in the thousands and hundreds of people who have to be in one line or the other,” Major Leacock said. 

The NDP vice president said that outside of the social welfare line it is the same set of lines of dependence at Money Gram and Western Union even though those are private initiatives.

Major Leacock also spoke of the number of vendors who showed up at the office of the Kingstown Market to be registered for the benefit. The number expected was 600 according to those registered but Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on radio earlier this week the number could grow to between 800 and 1,000.

The vendors were expected to start receiving their first $200 yesterday but information from the Kingstown Town Board said that start of payments had to be postponed because they were overwhelmed by the number of applications for assistance.

“You go around to the market, the Minister of Finance himself said he thought it was only 200-300 or some small number of vendors; you see the number of people who have to be climbing over to get that 200 (dollars) by three (months) – to get that $600 that would disappear in a jiffy because light bill and water bill will take that. But that’s how we’ve reduced our people,” Major Leacock said.