"Everybody kyaahn get grocery bags", or at least that's what the Minister of Human Development said today. Dolores Balderamos-Garcia lamented that, simply put, the government is broke and there are only limited resources to carry out the food assistance program. And limited resources translates into limited beneficiaries.
The Grocery Bag Program, formerly known as the Pantry Program, was put on pause back in November, shortly after the PUP took office. Minister Balderamos-Garcia said that they needed to reconfigure the program, which left a lot of dependents out in the cold.
The program restarted on December 15, but this was brief and was put on yet another indefinite pause. Now, the Minister is hoping to resume distribution next week but, as you just heard, not every previous beneficiary will be receiving this time around.
Hon Dolores Balderamos, Minister of Human Development
"What is happening is that we are in the process of vetting the applications, I do have to point out though that the money remaining up until the end of the financial year is very limited. So we have a tremendous desire, a tremendous wish on the part of the Belizean people to participate because things are hard but I don't want to give bad news but I do have to say that the number of persons that we may be able to help will be limited, you know? But government is committed with the limited resources that we have left, we are committed to seeing it through until the end of the financial year. But as you know we merged the former pantry and grocery bags, we merged it with the COVID food assistance so it is one food assistance program and that is what we will roll out, I think it will be a basket every two weeks, but again I have to caution that it will be limited."
"We're hoping by the end of next week and of course that should take us up to the third week of march so people may only be able to get a basket maybe two or three times and we will do our best to make sure that we assist the poorest of our poor people because certainly evribadi kyaahn get."
Over 45,000 persons were beneficiaries of the previous Pantry and Food Assistance programs.
So Many Applications for Food Assistance, Not Enough Money
The Food Assistance Program, a merging of the Grocery Bag Program and the COVID Food Assistance, is whittling down in terms of the funds made available for the initiative to continue to the end of this financial year. As it stands, there are approximately thirty thousand applications for relief through the Ministry of Human Development. That’s a figure that government will not be able to satisfy by the end of March. Instead, the ministry is seeking to assist the neediest in all thirty-one constituencies across the country. According to Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, they would only cover three to four hundred persons per constituency with the resumption and amalgamation of both programs.
Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Human Development
“We’re working assiduously to get it rolled out in another week or two. I can’t guarantee the exact date but I do know that all our ministry staff are working really hard. I think we have received in excess of thirty thousand applications and clearly we will not be able to accommodate everyone. You know, I want to take this opportunity and I will come back to the details of it, but I want to take this opportunity to say that yes, our ministry is there for the social safety net aspects but we also have to be advocates for empowerment. So when we talk about food baskets, when we talk about food assistance, it shouldn’t be to try to increase, we should be trying to decrease it by getting jobs for our people. Of course, these are very difficult times and the government right now, we’re not only scratching our heads but we’re putting the plans in place so that we can jump start the economy. Of course, we have to be so careful with the COVID, you know. But I do want to make the point that [the Ministry of] Human Development isn’t there to provide food assistance for everybody, that would be impossible. So I am hoping that we can reach the poorest of the poor, you know, and we will try our best to work with area reps and people who say, “Look, these are our indigent people and that kind of thing.” If my figures are correct, now don’t kill me if I get it wrong, but if my figures are correct, we may be able to assist about three to four hundred people per constituency, but again trying to roll it out in an equitable way.”