Significant progress made with ECD relief fund, says minister Lindiwe Zulu

Iavan Pijoos Journalist
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu. The social development department says since the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 was extended, 65,795 new applications have been received. File photo.
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu. The social development department says since the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 was extended, 65,795 new applications have been received. File photo.
Image: Linda Mthombeni

Since the launch of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Employment Stimulus Relief Fund at the beginning of February, more than 27,000 applications from ECD programmes with more than 117,000 employees have been recorded, says the social development department.

“This is a significant achievement and also demonstrates how technology can assist in creating access to government services.

“It is the first time in the history of the ECD sector that we are able to have such accurate information on ECD programmes and the size of the workforce,” said social development minister Lindiwe Zulu.

The main aim of the ECD relief fund – an emergency fund of R496m –  was to offer relief to all types ECD services including ECD centres and non-centre based ECD programmes.

Over the past few months, the ECD sector has been in desperate need of financial support from the social development department as many ECD services were forced to shut while other operators of ECD services had `been unable to pay their staff during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. 

During a press briefing on Friday morning, Zulu said the data received will help the department move forward with “planning and strengthening our processes and systems to enable us to have informed and targeted interventions that speak to the felt needs of this important sector”.

“Like any initiative, this had its challenges.”

Zulu said the department created an online application platform in partnership with Govchat to enable them to process the support in an “effective and speedy manner”.

She said the department had also developed a web-based application form in two additional languages to accommodate larger organisations that would apply on behalf of ECD services.

She said non-profit organisation and the Harambee Youth Support Service were deployed across all districts to offer support to any ECD programme that required it while the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Impande SA and Unicef held orientation and training sessions with the sector to empower them to complete the applications.

“We are planning to have payments processed from the first week of March 2021 and all applicants will be informed accordingly should this change.”

On February 11, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the monthly special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 would be extended for another three months.

Zulu said since then 65,795 new applications have been received.

She said the 9.7 million who have already applied will continue to be reassessed monthly, and qualifying applicants would continue to be paid.

She said the department has spent more than R17bn to date on this grant.

“We anticipate that by the end of the extended period, we would have spent more than R22bn to support this group of beneficiaries.

“It is also encouraging to note that 42,329 clients have voluntarily cancelled their grants  as their situation has improved to the extent that they no longer rely on this grant.”

She said overcrowding at post offices across the country remained a challenge.

“This payment method, which was meant to be temporary, has become the de facto payment channel.”

Zulu said 70%, or around 4.2 million beneficiaries, are paid through this channel and this has created serious pressure for the post office.

She said to ease the challenge of long queues, volunteers have been deployed to manage social distancing and assist beneficiaries in queues.

Other steps taken by post offices include the scheduling of appointments for beneficiaries, using alternative public facilities such as municipal halls for payments and the introduction of a system for staggering of payment dates based on the last three digits of the identity documents. 

With regards to disability grants, Zulu said the number stood at more than one million in January and had since increased to 1.1 million in March.

“This is an indication that progress is being made in this area.”

To date, the National Development Agency (NDA) has spent more than R21.2m towards the funding of the volunteer programme, Zulu said.

She said close to 2,000 people, who were mostly unemployed youth, were paid stipends.

“We created employment opportunities and training for our volunteers, most of whom are young people, and we think this is significant, especially in light of the recent unemployment rates announced by the statistician general earlier this week.”

She said she witnessed the importance of the NDA volunteer programme during recent visits to the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) Belville and Paarl offices in the Western Cape.

“There was a sense of gratitude from Sassa staff who on average attend to just over 500 people per day.

“The volunteers provided much-needed relief for the staff by dealing with crowd control and ensuring adherence to Covid-19 protocols at the pay points. This programme has assisted with ensuring safety at Sassa offices but also working experience and stipends for participating volunteers.”

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