EIGHT MILE ROCK, Grand Bahama – Nine hundred and seventy-eight residents of Eight Mile Rock and Freeport were the first recipients of the newly-launched Department of Social Services Pre-Paid Debit Card, Monday, July 27.
During the official launch at the Eight Mile Rock High School Gymnasium, Minister of Social Services and Community Development, the Hon. Melanie Griffin, congratulated the residents on being the first recipients and told them the cards cannot be used until Wednesday.
Hundreds filled the gymnasium to either collect their cards or receive information. Eight hundred and forty-eight in Eight Mile Rock and 130 from Freeport were those receiving their cards.
While addressing those gathered, Minister Griffin said it was a landmark day in Grand Bahama as these cards are being issued. She said that through the programme, people will be able to rise out of poverty, and until that day when the programme is no longer needed, they will be able to maintain their dignity.
The programme, she said, was officially launched in November of 2014 when The Bahamas joined many other countries in electronically delivering assistance through the issuance of prepaid cards. It started at the Wulff Road Centre, on Monday, January 26, 2015; it was launched at the Fox Hill Centre, on Monday, March 23, 2015; the Robinson Road Centre joined; and on May 18, 2015 the Horseshoe Drive Centre was added.
Describing those in Grand Bahama who will receive their cards this month as “swipers,” the Minister added that there are a number of benefits to having the card.
“The first and immediate advantage is that persons no longer have to come to the office in Eight Mile Rock and Freeport at the end of each month, sometimes as early as 6:00 a.m. and stand on long lines, sometimes for hours, to collect a paper coupon. Secondly, while the paper coupon specifies the food store where it has to be redeemed, the card allows you to shop around as it can be used in any food store that accepts prepaid cards. Thirdly, the full value does not have to be utilized at one time, it allows for purchases to be spread out over the month. Then there is privacy with the card so that beneficiaries are not readily identified and stigmatized.”
The Minister further warned about the restrictions on the card. “The purpose of the card is to ensure that persons have access to food hence the card can only be used at food stores, and I can assure you that it will not work at any other establishments.”
Clients who have already received the card in New Providence, she said, have attempted to use the card at other places, but have failed. The Department of Social Services receives weekly reports on the card usage, which includes where and when the card has been swiped.
“My advice to you therefore, is to use it wisely for the intended purpose, to provide food for you and your family.” Liquor stores, web shops, beauticians are all places that cannot receive the card.
All those receiving the benefits have to be reassessed and verified. Locating the 1,272 food assistance recipients in Eight Mile Rock is almost complete in Eight Mile Rock, and the Minister acknowledged the staff in the Eight Mile Rock office for their efforts. She said those officers, along with others and the Social Services Urban Renewal component, all worked after hours, weekends and public holidays to get them to that point on Monday.
They are still working on the 1,888 clients in Freeport who need to be assessed and verified. “We will gradually add persons to the new method and I fully expect that a goodly number will be added at the end of August 2015.”
There are also those who abuse the system and do not qualify, but in those cases, there is an appeals process in place for those who wish to query their termination.
Minister for Grand Bahama the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville said the launch of the programme creates efficiency, decreases lines and allows clients to access the services with dignity and respect.
Bank of The Bahamas has partnered with the government and therefore issues the card. Vanessa Taylor, senior manager of BOB, was also on hand to explain how the card should be used, as it is the first time many of the clients will use one.
There were training sessions for merchants and clients on the use of the card on Monday.