JIS News

Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding has said that the Government will be spending approximately $10 billion this fiscal year to keep poor Jamaicans covered under its social safety net, especially in terms of health care and school nutrition.
Mr. Golding said that the Government has provided an additional $1 billion to expand the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), which has been increased from 243,000 beneficiaries last year March, to 307,000 by February this year.
This will increase the budget for PATH to $3 billion, to expand coverage for all who have fallen in need with the emergence of the global economic crisis since 2008.
At the request of the Minister of Education Hon. Andrew Holness, he said that the originally proposed increase of $300 million for financing the School Feeding Programme this year, has been increased to $1 billion, “so that every hungry mouth can be fed and every hungry brain can be filled.”
This additional amount will increase the total school feeding budget to approximately $3 billion, this year.In the area of the health services, the Prime Minister said that, while last year the Government allocated less than $800 million to provide drugs for the public health service, which has been severely pressured since the removal of hospital fees, the allocation has been boosted to $2.5 billion this year, including $300 million from the National Health Fund (NHF).
In addition, $1 billion will be contributed by the NHF to financing the upgrading of strategically placed health centres (clinics), to deal with cases that do not require hospital attendance, in order to ease the pressure on the hospitals.
PATH targets the most vulnerable groups among the poor, including children from birth to 17 years, elderly persons with disabilities, pregnant and lactating women and the indigent poor. Payments for children are linked to regular attendance at school and scheduled attendance at clinics.
Approximately $2.4 billion are included under the social protection project in the capital budget, which is financed by the Government and the World Bank, while some $600 million has been provided in the recurrent estimates, mainly for the administration of services, including the Government’s poor relief services, which has been consolidated with PATH, the Public Assistance Services and Assistance to ex-Servicemen.
Mr. Golding noted the complaints from the public about the criteria for being admitted into the PATH programme. He said that discussions were being held with the World Bank to modify some criteria, while some were already lowered “somewhat”.
There are two components to the School Feeding Programme, the Nutri-Bun component for which Nutrition Products Limited provides nutri-buns and milk/drink snacks to approximately 136,000 beneficiaries, islandwide, on a daily basis; and the cooked lunch component, where a feeding grant and commodities are provided for 175,000 beneficiaries in infant, primary, all-age junior high and high schools.
There is also a per capita lunch subsidy for approximately 10,000 students in recognised basic schools through the School Feeding Unit, which also provides lunch assistance to 220,000 PATH beneficiaries in infant, primary, junior high, all age and high schools.
“There are poor children whose only nutritious meal for the day is the lunch they get at school. What I was not aware of is that, from the current subvention, a significant number of schools are only able to offer meals three days a week,” Mr. Golding lamented.
While admitting that the health services have come under pressure following the removal of hospital fees in April, 2008, the Prime Minister insisted that his administration did not regret the move.
“We cannot charge fees in order to reduce the pressure on the health system. We must expand the capability to ensure the availability,” he said.
He said that since a major source of demand was for drugs, the allocation has been raised to $2.5 billion. Arrangements are also being made to provide access to drugs at designated locations. Strategically located health centres will also be upgraded to deal with cases not requiring hospital service, to help ease the pressure on the hospitals.