New SRD regulations may disqualify hundreds of thousands of existing beneficiaries
Many eligible people have likely missed out on their April Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant payment, after DSD and SASSA halted application processing for April without explanation, despite the fact that they were clearly mandated under transitional measures gazetted on April 4. Under new regulations released on Friday afternoon, hundreds of thousands may now find themselves disqualified from assistance they have relied on to survive. Treasury and DSD are pulling the rug out from underneath a significant number of the most vulnerable, without warning or consultation.
Friday’s gazetted regulations bring the SRD grant out of the national state of disaster introduced under the pandemic, and into the Social Assistance Act. Grant beneficiaries who had been expecting to receive their entitlements for April will now need to reapply under new, restricted, eligibility criteria. However, the regulations explicitly state that applications must be lodged before the 15th of the month. It appears that by suspending April processing and payments, and now wiping the slate clean of previously approved grant obligations, the April SRD grants are in jeopardy for millions of South Africans. While Treasury and DSD may have saved themselves a lot of money in April, this will be at the expense of the poor, and together with other aspects of the regulations—is a violation of the President’s SONA commitment.
We seek urgent clarity from DSD as to whether those who were previously approved to receive a payment in April, will still receive this payment regardless of whether their new application is approved, and also whether those who apply under the new framework will be back paid for April.
Moreover and even more egregious, the published regulations have dropped the income eligibility threshold for the SRD, from the food poverty line (R624), to R350—meaning people are now only eligible to receive the SRD grant if their income is below R350 per month. That is shocking, inhumane, regressive, and leaves millions of people living below the food poverty line ineligible for government assistance. This also means that hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries who previously fell below the threshold and qualified, will now not qualify for the SRD grant under the reduced threshold. We believe that this retrogression of rights that have already been established and provided for will not sustain legal challenge.
Civil society partners Black Sash, #PayTheGrants, Social Policy Initiative and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) wrote to the Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu and the Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana on Friday 22 April ahead of the announcement of the new regulations, requesting an urgent update on the status of payments and application processing of the Social Relief of Distress grant, and demanding that immediate provisions be made for the continued payment of the grant to beneficiaries, as well as resumed application processing.
We requested that the Department engage with us on the serious concerns we raised to the draft regulations which will govern the future administration of the SRD grant. Many of these concerns have not been addressed in the now published regulations, and in fact the final regulations are a huge step backwards on what was contained previously—it is an open secret that this is a result of Treasury’s intransigence in refusing to even agree to the timid provisions in the draft regulations. We also raised in our correspondence the need to take timely action to ensure that basic income support is in place for the most vulnerable following the expiry of the current SRD grant in March 2023.
We note that DSD, in its most recent Annual Performance Plan presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, revealed that it intends to publish draft provisions for basic income support only in 2024. However, the current SRD grant expires in March 2023. We wish to engage with the Department urgently as to what plans are in place to protect the most vulnerable with basic income support immediately after March 2023.
Our full demands as delivered to the Minister on Friday (note: prior to the gazetting of the new regulations) are as follows:
1. the Department of Social Development to comply with their mandate under the Social Assistance Act to provide for the vulnerable
2. A public communication to provide an urgent update on the status of Social Relief of Distress grants for April
3. Direct communication to beneficiaries that are on the existing database in relation to the status of their Social Relief of Distress grants
4. The urgent publication of the new Regulations under the Social Assistance Act to empower the payment of Social Relief of Distress (Insufficient Means) grant, where due consideration has been given to the submissions made by civil society to address the challenges with the grant
5. Clarity as to how basic income support will be provided to the most vulnerable including SRD beneficiaries immediately following the expiry of the SRD grant in March 2023
The Social Relief of Distress grant provides R350 a month to those who are unemployed and have no income. While woefully little, it is many people’s only lifeline against starvation. Efficient administration of the Social Relief of Distress grant this month is all the more critical in light of the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded in KZN.
NOTE TO EDITORS: BACKGROUND TO REGULATORY PROCESS
The Social Relief of Distress Grant was previously provided under the framework of the National State of Disaster. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in February this year that the grant would be extended until March 2023. With the State of Disaster forecasted to end, DSD was tasked with incorporating the grant under the regulations to the Social Assistance Act. The draft regulations were released for a short period for public comment, during which time our organisations submitted serious concerns regarding their formulation; including that they laid the foundations for eligible people to be unfairly excluded from receiving the grant. The State of Disaster was lifted on 4 April, before the Regulations had been finalised, but government announced that this would not affect continuation of SRD grant payments in April.
Our organisations welcomed the fact that when the State of Disaster was lifted, transitional regulations were gazetted, to allow DSD and SASSA to continue to administer the Social Relief of Distress Grant while the Regulations under the Social Assistance Act were finalised. These transitional measures clearly state that the Social Relief of Distress grant will “continue to operate and be of force and effect until one month after the national state of disaster is terminated”.
Therefore, we are asking for an urgent explanation from the Minister of Social Development, and the Director General of DSD, as to why SASSA stopped processing new applications for the Social Relief of Distress Grant in April; why we are hearing reports that usual payments have not been made to all approved beneficiaries for April, and why the new regulations appear to retrospectively restrict payments from 1 April, effectively precluding the possibility of many April payments being made.