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Church NGO responds to Budget 2020

Education and training received the largest allocation in the 2020 National Budget, $7.548 billion, followed by National Security $6.440 billion. This has been the distribution pattern in past budgets. Finance Minister Colm Imbert presented the budget, themed Stability, Strength and Growth last Monday in the Parliament chamber.

According to the ‘Social Sector Investment Programme’ budget document, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) is listed as receiving a subvention of $2,896,800 payable 2018 and 2019. However, there was no estimate of expenditure listed for 2020.

In a release, the SSVP stated in 2018–2019 it continued to receive funding in tranches and though not always timely, “the Society is cognisant that the country is in a financial pinch and had no choice but to dig deep and be creative to ensure those under our charge were adequately taken care of”.

Regarding a subvention for 2020, the release said the SSVP has been liaising consistently with the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to receive subventions.

It continued, “The Ministry, with whom we have maintained an excellent relationship, has not yet expressed any 2020 major shift in the joint project at the Riverside Carpark (Centre for Socially Displaced Persons). In this regard, we continue to work with the Ministry and look forward to any recommendations stemming from their recent evaluation exercise at the Centre”.

In his budget presentation, Minister Imbert said, “Currently there is a shelter for socially displaced persons. However, this facility is woefully inadequate and does not serve the originally intended function.”

The release stated the SSVP has constantly and consistently made representation for a change in the infrastructural and structural design at the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP) and the latest effort is for fencing of the Centre. This will protect the 105 persons currently housed from those who choose to live below the CSDP and “continue to pose an aesthetic and security challenge for the staff and its residents”.

The SSVP, according to the release, is happy to work with all stakeholders to deal with the “eyesore”.

The ministry recently invested in external painting of the CSDP, and internal painting of major living spaces will begin.

The release said over the years the SSVP has shared in-depth knowledge and recommendations with the government and Mayor of Port of Spain and Council, including having Ministry of Health personnel on-site to treat residents with medical and psychological needs. It welcomed the involvement of other stakeholders.

There is concern about the impact of the increased minimum wage from $15 to $17.50. The release said it would have “a severe and far-reaching impact on the Society’s operations as the average expenditure on wages will essentially increase exponentially after December 1, 2019 and create a further financial burden on already limited resources.” It added, “We may be forced to rationalise the operations and staff employed at our 15 Homes/Institutions. It is however, an opportunity to explore more sustainable options to improve our work with the poor that we serve.”

The SSVP clarified that while it welcomed additional disposable income to the working poor, this has to be “carefully weighed” against rising food prices which is a priority expense for persons living in poverty. —LPG