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JIS News

For many vulnerable Jamaicans, who are unable to provide for their educational and health needs, the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), has proven to be a welcome source of assistance.
In fact, since the programme’s inception three years ago, some 195,000 vulnerable Jamaicans have been recipients of the individual cash grants to provide for their basic needs.
Trevor Smith, Project Director for PATH, explains to JIS News that the programme, which is run under the supervision of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, is essentially, “a social assistance programme where it provides a cash grant to poor and vulnerable groups. The purpose of PATH is actually to improve human capital development among poor and vulnerable groups and as such, what we are trying to do is break that inter-generational poverty cycle.”
PATH Programme is a joint collaboration between the government of Jamaica and the World Bank, and is an amalgamation of three social safety net initiatives – the Food Stamp Programme, Old Age and Incapacity Benefit Programme, and the Outdoor Poor Relief.
The cash grant dispensed to beneficiaries was initially $400, but according to the Project Director, since last week, it has been increased to $530.
He advises that in the case of school-aged children, which represent 70 per cent of the targeted beneficiaries under PATH, the cash grant being disbursed is conditional, as there are stipulations to ensure that children attend school regularly and also do regular health checks.
As for the other 30 per cent, he reveals that the disability category would account for 11 per cent (19,000 persons) of beneficiaries, while the elderly, and pregnant and lactating mothers, represent the remaining 19 per cent.
Given PATH’s objective of human capital development, the Director informs that there is no limit to the number of persons in a household that can access the benefits of the programme. “There is no limit to the number of persons in the household,” he tells JIS News, “so we have households as big as 19 in one instance that I can recall.but we only provide benefits to the eligible members of the household.”
Eligibility, Mr. Smith explains, is determined through a scoring formula that PATH uses. This involves examining the characteristic of poverty as detailed on the application forms.
“So for example,” he notes, “we would look at the living conditions of the person, we would look at the educational level of the person, we would look at the consumer variables and . we would ask questions concerning those main attributes. So we would have questions on that and that is embodied in our application forms.”
He further explains, “we would then enter that data to our computer database and we would generate a score. In generating that score, if the person falls below a certain threshold, then he would be considered to be poor and that is how we do it. So it is a family benefit and we would put all members of the family within the pot and we generate a score and if the family attains the score, then the family would benefit from PATH.”
Mr. Smith discloses, that while there is still some difficulty in getting persons to bring in proper documents when applying for benefits, the biggest problem remains the non-compliance with the stipulations of the programme. He says that while 250,000 persons are eligible for grants, because of the suspension of benefits for non-attendance to schools and health centres, only a maximum of 195,000 persons receive payments in any given month.
He informs that the Ministry is taking measures to correct the problem of non-compliance, noting that research is underway “to better understand the reasons for non-compliance.we have a research team out now looking at some of the problems and reasons.
In addition to that, we have a social work initiative aimed at case management, talking to the beneficiaries, talking to the children, the providers in the schools, talking to the health providers and so we have that social work initiative taking place during the case management.”
He adds that there is also an ongoing public education campaign to apprise the beneficiaries of the importance of adhering to the conditions of the programme.
He notes further, that PATH has been working with liaison officers in the Ministries of Education, Youth and Culture and Health, with their responsibility being to smooth the relationship between them and the Ministry of Labour, “so as to deal with those systemic problems that have arisen from the relationship because you know children will have to attend health centres and that becomes the purview of the Ministry of Health, and of course attending school is the Ministry of Education”.
In dealing with the absence of proper documentation on the part of applicants, Mr. Smith tells JIS News that, “what we have been doing is contacting them (delinquent applicants) by telephone and using follow up letters to remind them of their outstanding documents and we also use our social workers to speak to these people from time to time.”
He notes that these documents are critical as they determine whether or not applicants are qualified, and they also “have to enter their age because age is one of the characteristics we use to determine poverty.”
“There are some things that have to be entered into the database for us to determine whether or not to generate the score so we have a situation where beneficiaries often do not submit all the documents they are required to submit,” he laments.
Despite the challenges, the PATH Project Director trumpets the programme as a qualified success that has provided aid to needy persons.
Citing findings from the Survey of Living Conditions, he notes that PATH has been credited with reducing the incidence of poverty from 19.2 per cent in 2003 to 16.49 per cent in 2004. In addition, preliminary research also credits an improvement in immunisation rates among PATH beneficiaries, and children, who receive benefits under PATH, are shown to attend school more regularly.
“In fact,” boasts Mr. Smith, “more specifically stated in the Survey of Living Conditions, is that 92 per cent of PATH beneficiaries will be in school in any given day, so we have seen an improvement.”
Meanwhile, he tells JIS News that the programme’s administrative expenses were reduced to less than 10 per cent for the 2004/2005 financial year. “That is to say to every dollar we spend in administration, we give $9 to the beneficiary.this has been a marked improvement over previous social programmes. We have also seen from this research where PATH is the best targeted programme Jamaica has seen when compared to both current programme and previous programmes.”
He explains that whereas previous social programmes operated in a welfare mode, where benefits such as food stamps or some kind of cash grants were provided, there is a fundamental difference with PATH.
“This programme is moving away from a welfare mode to human capital, which means that we provide the beneficiary with the cash grant and in turn, the beneficiaries attend school and health centres because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, and this has been supported by a lot of research, that if a child is healthy and a child attends school regularly, then that child will break that inter-generational poverty cycle, and that child will not be a burden to the state at adulthood. This is part of the big plan in Jamaica’s development.”
So significant has been PATH’s success over the course of its three-year existence that the World Bank, its financial partner, has referred other developing nations that are seeking to establish social safety net programmes of their own, to look at Jamaica’s PATH programme.
“We have had trips from Suriname, because they would like to set up something similar. They have heard about PATH.the Bahamas also came to visit, we recently had a team from Kenya visit, because they have heard about the positives of PATH,” he tells JIS News.
Meanwhile, Mr. Smith says that he has been invited by the Caribbean Development Bank, to go to Barbados to speak about the merits of PATH, as that country was looking to establish a similar social programme.
Turning to measures that he wants to see implemented under the programme in the medium to long-term, he tells JIS News, “we would want to increase the number of social workers, we need to provide more case management support to our beneficiaries, and so we would want to improve the number of social workers.”
He reveals that a resource plan was recently completed that looked at the number of social workers required island wide, and there are plans to increase the numbers, but this is dependent on approval from the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Nonetheless, he says, “we are putting plans in place to improve that social work cadre and also to tame the problem of non-compliance.”