(CNS): Veteran retired seamen who already have a personal income of up to $3,000 per month will now be able to claim the ex-gratia benefit as the community affairs minister has increased the previous cap from a household income of $2,000pcm in line with the monthly allowance for other benefits. In the Legislative Assembly last week Osbourne Bodden set out the new qualifying criteria and plans for greater scrutiny, which he said had been revised following a review of the benefit.
Bodden said that the revisions had been approved by Cabinet and will take immediate effect but plans to shift the management of the special benefit to the Needs Assessment Unit would not take place until next July and the start of the new financial year.
Government introduced the CI$550 benefit for qualified seaman and their surviving spouses fifteen years ago.
“There is no doubt about the worth and value of the contributions made by our seamen to the development of these islands,” Bodden said in the LA as he set out the changes. Noting that his ministry was responsible for the oversight and administration of the ex-gratia benefit, he pointed to some challenges that emerged in trying to streamline the process and adopt appropriate control mechanisms to reduce discrepancies.
An internal review had identified weaknesses in the system, leading to the need to revise the conditions of ex-gratia eligibility, he said, adding that he was confident the new criteria would improve the process and control, while ensuring the intended outcome of the original policy to provide financial relief to seamen who, as seniors, had no fixed income and no dependable means of a livelihood.
“These changes will ensure that the process is more streamlined,” he said, claiming that greater efficiencies in the approval and disbursement of the benefit would be realised.
One of the main issues will be that all those receiving the benefit that are not signed off by the Seafarers Association will be much more closely scrutinized to ensure they were genuine. However concerns were raised by members in the LA that without a time served criteria, it even more people could become eligible. In addition, the issue of genuine veterans not receiving any benefits at all had not been addressed.
Revisions to the criteria are as follows:
- Applicants who were not Caymanian at the time they sailed are referred to Cabinet for their consideration.
- Total monthly household income of $2,000.00 is changed to total personal income not exceeding $3,000.00 per month inclusive of any Government assistance. This new amount will also apply to business owners who will continue to be assessed by the Needs Assessment Unit as deemed necessary.
- Affidavits of time spent at sea are signed off by the Cayman Islands Seafarers’ Association or the Veterans & Seamen Society for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
- The definition of resident is a person who maintains residency in the Cayman Islands for a period of not less than eight (8) months per year.
- In situations where the recipient/spouse is overseas for medical purposes and has submitted the requested certified documentation and is a permanent and full time resident of the Cayman Islands, that the Ministry is able to take these exceptions into consideration and continue to provide the benefit.
- Surviving spouse upon applying will be processed immediately (subject to availability of funds).
- If a surviving spouse remarries, the ex-gratia benefit will cease immediately.
- To change the definition of seaman to: a sailor or officer that first went to sea before the 1st January, 1985 and who received pay or gratuity for assisting in the international transport of a ship, boat or vessel, cargo, and/or passenger from one port to another.
- To review the criteria for Seamen Ex-gratia Benefits every three (3) years.
- To grandfather in the existing recipients of the Seamen Ex-Gratia Benefit as of 30 June 2015 to exempt them from the criteria. If the original application is found to be fraudulent, they will be removed immediately.
- To transfer all administrative and oversight functions of the Seamen’s Ex-Gratia Benefit to the newly established Needs Assessment Unit effective 1 July 2016 pending approval of the 16/17 budget.