Yesterday, August 30th 2019 APATT participated in a Sensitization Session on the new Disability Assistance Grant For Minors (DAGM) hosted by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. The panelists were:
Mr. Vijay Gangapersad, Permanent Secretary (Ag.) MSDFS
Mr. Troy Pollonais, Director Social Welfare Division, MSDFS
Ms. Elizabeth Villaruel, Deputy Director Social Welfare Division (Ag.), MSDFS
Mr. Wendell Jones, Supervisor III, MSDFS.
The session started with questions the panelists answered about the new grant. Then a question and answer session followed.
APATT, among other stakeholders were informed of the following:
The new Disability Assistance Grant for Minors is in the sum of $1500.00 per month in two phases:
1. The first wave will transition children (around 600) who are currently receiving the Public Assistance Grant, the General Assistance Grant, Special Child Grant; with a permanent medical report on file. In the case, of these particular children, payment will be retroactive from January 2019.
Retroactive meaning according to the Ministry that they will be paid the money DIFFERENCE between the grant they have been receiving and the new grant. The new grant is expected to start in September, 2019. As the new grant is introduced, the Public Assistance Grant or General Assistance Grant will be stopped.
If your child/children received the Special Child Grant and they no longer do because you were told they cannot qualify based on your income (the implementation of the means test), you will have to re-apply for this grant, you will not be transitioned.
2. The second wave, is expected to cover about 250 children (the balance according to the Ministry). They will transition from October, 2019.
3. For new applicants, parents/guardians will have to obtain a medical report form and an application form. These forms will be available at TTconnect service centres, health centres, Social Welfare Local Board Office, online, and Ministry of Health. They obtained the forms yesterday so it should be available in the coming days.
After obtaining the report, have the child examined and the medical report completed by the doctor. According to the handout we received, it says that parents also complete the application form and then submit both to the local board officer nearest you (and obtain a receipt as proof of submission).
However, during the meeting today, it was stated that AFTER the medical report is received THEN an application form will be given.
- A child under the age of 18 whose disability is either severe or complete and where the disability is permanent in nature according to the medical report from a pediatrician or other medical practitioners (public health) authorized by the Chief Medical Officer for this purpose (the Ministry has a list of doctors that will be provided when parents request a medical form). Or from a pediatric specialist (private) registered with the Medical Board of T&T (again, Ministry has a list).
- A parent or legal guardian must be a citizen or legal permanent resident of T&T.
- A parent or legal guardian must be 18 years or older.
- The beneficiary child must not have attained the age of 18.
- A child must be a citizen/legal permanent resident of T&T.
- A child must be residing permanently in T&T.
No means test for this new grant. However, where a monthly income exceeding $1500 is paid for a similar benefit on behalf of a child, such will not be eligible for this new grant.
ESTIMATE TIMELINE FOR APPLICATION TO APPROVAL TO RECEIPT?
According to the Ministry, the transitioning process should be completed in a few months. For those applying for the grant as a new case, they stated it is difficult to ascertain the time since the process involves several factors out of the control of the Ministry. It was also mentioned during the meeting that sometimes parents do not want to provide all the necessary information and that is the cause of some of the delays in obtaining the grant.
The following data is the total number of children to be transitioned over the next few months.
Port of Spain: 59
San Juan: 80
Sangre Grande: 52
San Fernando: 105
Princes Town: 50
Rio Claro: 32
Pt. Fortin: 20
The transitioning cost will cost approximately $1.5M. The new applications who are expected to qualify according to the Ministry, will cost $31M catering for approximately 1,750 children to benefit in the fiscal year 2020.
If you are not satisfied with what the doctor determined about your child’s disability, you can request the Chief Medical Officer to review the case through the local board.
If the issue is with the rejection of your application, you can appeal to the Senior Officer (Welfare Officer III) and if you are not satisfied you can take it to the supervisor of office. If you don’t get the response you are seeking, you can then go to the central office and appeal to the Supervisor III, then Deputy Director and finally to the Director.
It is important to mention that in order to appeal you must have something in writing stating that you have been rejected.
One of the first questions APATT asked during the meeting was if the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services have invited stakeholders and parents of special needs children to be part of the planning process of this grant since they are the ones who are going to be impacted by this new grant.
We were told by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Gangapersad that they had discussions with several stakeholders and met parents as well. When we indicated that we have been asking other stakeholders if they were part and we were told no, he didn’t indicate who were these stakeholders and parents that have allegedly participated in the discussions prior to the execution of this plan.
The director, Mr. Pollonais, indicated that they wanted to start this grant right now rather than wait until it was “perfect” so there will be “gaps”. APATT indicated that if they would have consulted stakeholders and involve special needs parents so they could express what they need maybe those gaps would have been avoided.
1. Some of the information shared by the panel was clear but not all, there were a few instances when members of the panel were saying different things about the same issue/topic and it had to be corrected.
2. It was clear to us that the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services did not involve stakeholders who serve special needs families and/or special needs parents in the discussions about the implementation of this new grant. Maybe, if they included the relevant NGOs in the formalization process of this grant then some of the gaps that already exist in this new policy could be avoided.
3. Even though a means test has been removed, a parent will have to go through an Olympiad in order to qualify for this new grant. Parents and their children will be subjected to a medical report from a doctor who may not be a specialist or able to diagnose, not to mention the waiting period to see these doctors that already have long waiting lists in the public sector (example, Dr. Dick, one of the doctors assigned). We do not know yet how many doctors will be used for this purpose for the entire country.
4. APATT is seriously concerned about autistic children since Autism is considered a hidden disability. Since this particular grant is only for those children who are severe to complete, how will Autism be seen by the medical officer since it is a lifelong disability? If a child is considered to be mildly autistic by the officer because he/she talks or makes eye contact (and yet, he does not receive therapy or schooling to address many of his/her needs), will this child’s application be rejected because he does not fall in the category of “severe or complete”?
5. The grant process is very discouraging, from time line issues to the fact that regular doctors will be the ones in charge of diagnosing/assessing children in order to qualify for this grant. It is concerning to APATT that every child will not be assessed by a specialist, making it even more difficult for parents to obtain this grant.
6. Parents will have to pay for private specialists to fill the medical form for this grant if they cannot get through the public health doctors. Most of our parents are unable to afford private doctors. No parent can pay $6,000 minimum for an assessment in order to access a $1,500 grant.
7. The grant seems to single out cases of children who they consider to be “severe to complete” disabled leaving a considerable amount of children in the dark. Therefore, those on the autism spectrum, who are considered moderate to high functioning are left to fend for themselves even though they have therapeutic and educational needs like any other child. For the new grant however, these children are not to be considered in need.
You can also check the answers for your questions about this grant in the Q&A session.