Minister proposes increase to Covid grant income threshold

Minister proposes increase to Covid grant income threshold

Meanwhile, many R350 grant beneficiaries have been waiting months for their payments

By Marecia Damons

  • Many people who rely on the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant say they have been waiting for months for their payments.

  • SASSA has acknowledged the backlog in payments.

  • Social Development minister Lindiwe Zulu has proposed that the income threshold for SRD applicants be raised from R350 to R624. The public has until 29 July to comment.

It has been months since the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) approved the R350 grant applications of 34-year-old Ntombi Kwaza and she is yet to be paid. As Kwaza and thousands like her wait for their Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grants, the Department of Social Development has proposed that the income threshold to qualify for the grant be raised from R350 to R624 per month.

Kwaza, from Klerksdorp in the North West province, said her applications for the SRD grant from August 2021 to November 2021 were declined because SASSA “detected a source of income”. She appealed this decision and was notified in May this year that all four months were approved.

She is still waiting for these payments despite SASSA’s announcement that successful appeals from last year would be paid in June. “They are torturing us. When they said I got approved, I was so happy and even dancing. Now I just feel like giving up,” she said.

Kwaza lives with her boyfriend, three children, and two younger siblings who are still in high school. She has been unemployed for four years. Her household relies on the R480 child support grants she receives for her ten-year-old and seven-month-old children.

“There’s no money in my bank account and no one sends me money. I don’t even get money from my family. We are suffering a lot,” she said. Kwaza’s SRD grant applications from December 2021 until May 2022 are still pending.

According to Social Development minister Lindiwe Zulu, since the latest iteration of the grant was launched on 1 April, only 5.2 million people qualified for the grant out of 11.3 million applicants. This is attributed to the lower income threshold of R350 per month.

Another applicant, Cecilia Van Niekerk, 47, from Allanridge in the Free State has not received SRD grant payments since April this year. Van Niekerk is a widow and cares for her nine-year-old daughter. She has been unemployed for ten years and recently, a family friend who receives a state pension moved in with them.

“It’s difficult because every day is a struggle. I have to beg my friends to help me with a R50 here and a R100 there. I’ve got veggies growing in the yard so if we have to eat pap and wild spinach, then we do that.

“We live in a poor area, so we can’t even ask our neighbours for help. It’s really difficult,” she said. Van Niekerk said her SRD grant applications for April and June have been approved but no pay dates were given. Her applications for May and July are still pending.

The Social Relief of Distress grant was first introduced in May 2020 under the National State of Disaster regulations. It was due to end in March 2022 but was extended to March 2023. Under the new regulations, all beneficiaries needed to reapply for the grant.

In a video statement uploaded on 17 June, SASSA CEO Busisiwe Memela-Khambula said the agency had started addressing the R350 payment backlog. She said applicants from August 2021 to November 2021 who successfully appealed their rejection for the grant were to be paid in June 2022.

Applications approved for April will be paid in July and those approved for May will be paid in August. Memela-Khambula said they expect the monthly grants to be on track after this.

Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker, national advocacy manager at the Black Sash, said SASSA’s decision to further delay payments is concerning, especially for beneficiaries “who are depending on the grant albeit meagre, to survive”.

Civil society organisations have also challenged the new regulations in a court. Their application, which is still pending a hearing, takes issue with the department’s decision to lower the income threshold for SRD grant applicants from R595 to R350, among other things.

On 7 July, the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, gazetted a call for public comment on proposed amendments to the existing SRD grant. Under the proposed changes, the monthly income threshold will be increased from R350 to R624, which is the national poverty line.

The public has until 29 July to comment on the proposed amendments.

SASSA did not respond to several of our requests for comment.

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