By Orville Williams
Thousands of pensioners would have breathed a collective sigh of relief this week, after receiving their long-outstanding Social Security payments.
For months on end, the Social Security Board (ABSSB) has been suffering from low revenues – largely due to the economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – and that has resulted in a widespread payment backlog, leaving many pensioners with empty pockets and struggling to cope.
In recent weeks, however, the Board received a desperately-needed financial injection from the government, in the form of $10 million – a portion of the US$25 million loan granted to the government by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
According to the Director of the ABSSB, David Matthias, that injection has allowed them to make significant progress with clearing the backlog.
“We have since then utilised those funds to clear off the outstanding amounts for September and we have [also] – as of this past Tuesday – completed the payments for October.
“So, October is paid in full, meaning all pensioners are up to date and we expect, somewhere around November 29, to begin payments for pensions in November,” he told Observer.
Speaking further on the payment process, Matthias shed some light on how the payments are actually disbursed using an internally-developed system that was implemented back in 2020.
The system, he revealed, is based around two payment cycles, accounting for persons who “are absolutely dependent on Social Security … those persons who receive the equivalent of or below [the ABSSB’s] average pension – which at this time is roughly $1,000.
“Anyone who is in receipt of $1,000 or less from Social Security, we are saying that those persons are most at risk and as such, they are the ones who are paid first; anyone who receives $1,100 or more in pension, they are normally covered in the second release of pensions. [By doing this] we made absolutely certain that the persons who are most at risk are the ones who are covered in the first installment,” he disclosed.
Matthias also shared some good news on the payment of short-term benefits, for which the backlog has been even worse.
Just over a month ago, Matthias had revealed that the ABSSB is “at least four to five months delayed” in making those payments, due mainly to the strain caused by the pension requirements.
He declared just yesterday, though, that all the outstanding payments could be cleared within a week.
“For short-term benefits, we expect that once we overcome some internal challenges that we do have with the processing, we’ll be able to effect full payment … bringing them [up to date] as well.
“As I’ve indicated in the past, we are some five to six months delayed in making those payments, but we expect to clear off a substantial portion – if not all of the outstanding months – sometime next week, if not sooner,” he added.
The ABSSB Director stated recently that, despite the challenges faced over the past several months, the prospects for the new year appear positive, especially as the tourism rebound continues.
He, like the Board’s many pensioners and contributors, will be hopeful that that will materialise, so they can escape the misery of backlogs and late payments for even a short while.