Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has apologised to recipients of the R350 Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant for problems in its administration after the end of the national state of disaster early in April.
She was speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria on Monday (10 October).
The issues resulted in a drop in recipients from 10.5 million to a level where less than half the allocated budget was utilised.
“We regret the pain and hardships that these challenges occasioned for many of you for whom this intervention is the difference between, on the one hand, hunger and indignity, and on another, leading a dignified life,” said Zulu.
She explained that a switch from operating under the Disaster Management Act to the Social Assistance Act required the development of new regulations in compliance with the Public Finance Management Act.
The department had to develop additional qualifying criteria, including a means test that was implemented by checking the bank accounts of prospective recipients to see if they had inflows of R350 or more from other sources.
They had to negotiate with the banks for them to implement the means test.
“Consequently, in the first three months of implementing this benefit, we experienced very serious challenges whose net effect was implementation delays.”
She said the low uptake of the grant remains a challenge for the department. “For us as the Social Development portfolio this is very serious indictment because we continue to see the growing numbers of hungry and distressed people in the communities where we work.”
In August the criteria were simplified and the threshold increased to R624 per month, in line with the estimated food poverty line. The number of applicants subsequently increased to 12 million.
“We may have to consider a further adjustment to the threshold to enable more applicants to qualify for the benefit,” Zulu said.
She announced that nearly 7.5 million people are currently receiving the grant every month, still short of the target of 10.5 million.
Zulu also cautioned that the programme should keep to within the monthly budgeted amount of R44 billion and the department should take care to not over-commit government.
Noting that payments are still being hampered by beneficiaries who upload incorrect banking details, she urged approved applicants to check the status of their bank verification and, if necessary, correct the details.
“We note that it is in the interest of the incomeless, unemployable and vulnerable sections of our population for the implementation of the Covid-19 SRD to improve,” she added.
“Equally, we note that the vast majority of South Africans prefer to be in employment. Until such time that the economy has sufficiently grown, we cannot helplessly sit by and watch the people lose their dignity.”