TWO thousand people in Tobago have applied for rental assistance from the Ministry of Social Development. The rental aid covers up to $2,500 per month for up to three months.
New Assistant Secretary in the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development Nadine Stewart-Phillips, on her first official day on the job at the division’s weekly media briefing on Monday, said the Government has put measures in place for people who were terminated from jobs, retrenched or lost income as a result of the pandemic.
The former tourism secretary acknowledged there has been difficulty accessing the rental assistance.
"We know that the process is taking longer than it should but there is a lot of work happening in the background at this time so that the applications can be honoured in the shortest time possible."
Stewart-Phillips gave a reason for the delay.
"This process is being derailed due to fraudulent activities," she said.
“We are aware that no landlord in Trinidad or Tobago to date has received this rental assistance, as there must now be a verification process, via site visits, to ensure that the information being provided on these applications is indeed accurate. We know that the process is taking longer than it should but there is a lot of work happening in the background at this time, so that the applications can be honoured in the shortest time possible.”
Approximately 2,000 applications were received at the ministry from Tobago, Stewart-Phillips said, and 565 applicants were uploaded directly from her division.
She said to fast-track the process, it was decided on Friday that the division would be given access to the ministry’s database to handle the 2,000 applications from Tobago.
“So, the team will go through these applications and disaggregate them and this will enable us to determine the number of persons who have applied only for rental assistance, only for the salary relief and only for the social relief assistance.”
The verification process for rental assistance for Tobagonians will be done by the division and the results sent to the ministry to help accelerate the requests.
Stewart-Phillips said the division’s most urgent priority is increasing coverage in response to the crisis.
In addition, after discussion with the Secretary of Health, Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine, it was agreed their division would directly help those in need.
"To date, the division has assisted four families with rent and those are persons that were affected by the covid19 pandemic. We have over 88 clients that were assisted with emergency food cards across the island of Tobago and the division has also partnered with the division of finance and the economy to access food cards for our clients that are in need.”
She said 63 of those applications were submitted to the division of finance for processing last Friday.
MENTAL HELP IMPORTANT TOO
Stewart-Phillips said covid19 and the government restrictions to combat its spread have caused social and economic consequences, both immediate and long term, and the division is strengthening the social protection responses to mitigate the staggering effects.
The division’s psychosocial response, she said, is critical.
“The physical virus may disappear, covid19 may disappear, covid19 may be no more but the psychosocial impact of covid19 will be around for a very long time.”
She added, “As much as we are meeting the social needs, there is another element that we cannot forget. As we work to ensure that we have families equipped to meet the basic needs or what we call the physiology needs, including food and shelter, we must also ensure that we are protecting the mental, the emotional and the psychological wellbeing of our citizens. We understand that staying at home and social distancing may be lonely, but we do not want you to be alone or feel alone.”
Stewart-Phillips said the division’s counselling hotline is still available and the seven counsellors have provided support to over 50 people on the island.
She said during this period and even when semblance of normalcy returns, support is necessary.
“It is okay to not be okay; it is okay to not feel okay...We understand that this is indeed a difficult time, we are aware of the current hardships that are being faced by individuals and we are really asking for patience. We are asking our landlords to be patient, we are asking our applicants to be patient, because we are working in your best interest.”