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$3,000 FOR POOR OLD PEOPLE

By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, July 17 2010

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THE Government yesterday laid a Bill in the Lower House to change the senior citizens grant to a pension and to raise the monthly payments from the current $2,500 per month to some $3,000 per month.

The $3,00 pension would be paid to persons 65 and over, who eke out a monthly income of $500. The State payment is a non-contributory old age pension.

From September 1, senior citizens will be entitled to as much as $3,000 per month, Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said in a statement, after Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal had earlier laid the Senior Citizens Grant (Amendment) Bill 2010, to be debated at a future date after the House reconvenes on July 30.

The Bill proposes to change the current Senior Citizens’ Grant Act to the Senior Citizens’ Pension Act and to remove the definition of “grant” and include the definition of “pension” in the new legislation.

Moonilal had previously said in a statement earlier this week the measure will help 70,837 persons. However, the Bill quashed expectations raised in the recent general election that the State pension would become a universal entitlement regardless of income.

Making one minor change to the income schedule of the current grant structure, a pension would be paid to persons who receive an income from as low as $500 to the maximum of $2,800. The minimum income for the current grant is $100 and less. No-one earning over $2,800 in private- income would receive a pension, reveals the Bill.

The Bill also proposes a range of pensions in relation to the range of incomes, therefore, a pensioner who has a private income of $500 a month would receive $3,000, but the person who earns $2,800 a month would receive $1,200. Currently persons who earn up to $100 receive a $2,500 grant and those with a $2,800 income get $700.

Therefore, the Bill could allow an elderly person to draw a combined income/pension of as much as $4,000 per month.

Ramadharsingh boasted the Bill had been laid within 30 days of the Opening of Parliament, which had occurred on June 18.

“Mr Speaker, history will record that it was one of the first major decisions of the People’s Partnership Government and for all time it will be said that in less than 30 days of the resumption of Parliament, Cabinet agreed to an amendment of the Senior Citizens Grant...,” said Ramadharsingh.

He also recalled that in the May 24 General Election, the introduction of a $3,000 pension had been one of the main promises of the People’s Partnership manifesto, (where in fact it had been item #17 of their 120-Day Plan).

“We gave a commitment to protect the rights of the elderly and for a square deal for the elderly,” related Ramadharsingh, boasting the current monthly payment was being both raised and restored as a pension entitlement rather than a discretionary grant as had occurred under the former PNM regime.

“We have removed ‘grant’ and our older persons are now guaranteed a monthly pension to which they are entitled.” He hit the former PNM’s renaming of the former Old Age Pension Act as the Senior Citizens Grant Act. “There was mass confusion regarding whether the payment now called ‘grant’ could be withdrawn at any time, as opposed to a pension which was seen and felt to be an entitlement.”

Ramadharsingh said the Government wanted to treat the elderly as heroes and flag-bearers, rather than being the poor and suffering of the society who are begging at the mercy of a government for a gift it can take back at its whim and fancy.

He said, “Cabinet has agreed to the introduction of a new payment structure that will ensure that no person will receive an income that is less than $3,000 per month. That is, their income and the quantum of the senior citizens grant (pension) will not be less than $3,000 at the lowest end and up to $4,000 at the upper limit.”

Ramadharsingh did not spell out the cost of these changes. However he apparently quashed a widespread view that the eligibility age would be reduced to 60 years as he repeatedly referred to a pension age of 65 years as currently obtains.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar denied ever promising to lower the pension qualifying-age.

Ramadharsingh said, “Translated, this policy decision would ensure that no senior citizen, 65 years and over, in this country would be required to exist on an income that is lower than $3,000 per month.”

The Bill shows it goes one better than the grant increases awarded by the former PNM government just before the May 24 General Election, which had increased the basic grant from a previous $1,950 to the current level of $2,500, which is now being raised by the new Government to $3,000.

A glance at the Bill shows that a pensioner will get a portion of the pension according to which private-income “band” he falls into.

As occurs at present, the Bill divides pensioners into nine “bands” of their monthly private- income level.

• For an income of $500, you will get a $3,000 pension.

• An income of $500 to $1,450 gets you a pension of $2,550.

• Between $1,450 to $1,650 in income, the pension is $2,350.

• Someone earning between $1,650 and $1,800 may get $2,200 pension.

• From $1,800 to $2,000 income, the pension is $2,000.

• Earnings of $2,000 to $2,200, may be supplemented by a $1,800 pension.

• A $2,200 to $2,400 income, may attract a pension of $1,600.

• If you earn $2,400 to $2,600, the pension is $1,400.

• Anyone with income of $2,600 to $2,800 gets a pension of $1,200.

So, the lowest earner has a potential income plus pension total of $3,500, while for all of the other eight bands the maximum possible income and pension is $4,000.

The former PNM Government had also set out nine income-bands.

An old person with a private-income of zero to $100 drew a $2,500 pension (up from a previous $1,950), while a $100 to $1,450 income-band saw a $2,100 pension. The other increases given by the former PNM regime are as follows.

• A $1,450 to $1,650 income-band saw a $1,850 pension.

• A $1,650 to $1,800 income-band had a $1,700 pension.

• A $1,800 to $2,000 income-band had a $1,550 pension.

• A $2,000 to $2,200 income-band had a $1,300 pension.

• A $2,200 to $2,400 income-band had a $1,100 pension.

• A $2,400 to $2,600 income-band had a $900 pension.

• A $2,600 to $2,800 income-band had a $700 pension.

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