The Portfolio Committee on Social Development has received its follow-up briefing from the department, outlining its plans on how it hopes to deal with the lapsed temporary disability grants.

The committee heard that 70% of the reassessments had been completed and that paper-based assessments were introduced and that arrangements had been made for previous medical records to be used for Sassa (South African Social Security Agency) beneficiaries.

Sassa’s Chief Executive Officer, Ms Busisiwe Memela, revealed that 214 000 beneficiaries were affected and that those that Sassa had committed itself to reinstate, will receive their payments tomorrow, and they will be backdated.

The Executive Manager, Ms Dianne Dunkerley, said “two of our biggest hospitals were unable to assist as they are occupied with a surge in Covid-19 cases”. Potential risks included not completing the project by March 2021, limited availability of community halls, criminals queuing and selling spaces, and overcrowding and lack of social distancing at pay points.

These challenges were mitigated in various ways, including increasing operating days, staff working on weekends, conducting assessments at alternative facilities other than the usual health facilities, and introducing the booking system.

The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Mondli Gungubele, it was comforting that the department also looked to work closely with the South African Post Office in resolving the challenge of queues at Sassa pay points.

Members sought clarity on various issues including the breakdown of doctors that are being used for assessments, the 80 cases doctors were expected to do per day, distribution of food vouchers by councillors.

Committee Member, Ms Laetitia Arries, said food vouchers in KwaZulu-Natal were distributed by the councillors and that should not be allowed as it may contaminate the department’s programme with politics. She sought clarity on why the Western Cape and Gauteng seemed to be slow in reinstating the temporary disability grant.

Mr Gungubele said there was demonstrable action in the plan, and that although there was a need to restructure and augment, the committee appreciated it.

“This plan is about interventions. If you intervene it means there is a problem, and that needs to be described, and a preferred situation should be clearly articulated once you identify the manifestation.”

It was revealed that there had been challenges with the previous medical records and that the assessments were not a full physical assessment but based on the documents that have been provided. The 286 contracted doctors can now do a maximum of 80 assessments. Declined assessments are appealable within 90 days of receiving the decision.

Ms Dunkerley said reconsideration by Sassa will no longer be required as this was an administrative step that rarely changed the original decision.

Minister Lindiwe Zulu, who led the delegation, said interventions of the department should seek to empower the beneficiaries and the volunteers. “We commit ourselves to do the best that we can do at all times.”

By Sibongile Maputi

3 February 2021