Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Minister of State in the Ministry of the People and Social Development, said the $3.4 billion Rise Up programme which includes the Targeted Conditional Cash Transfer Programme TTCard, a food card, has been enhanced to provide social assistance to the country’s neediest citizens. On Wednesday Communications Minister Vasant Bharath said the entire 2013/2014 allocation for the ministry was $3.5 billion.
Alleyne-Toppin made the comment yesterday after delivering the feature address at the Social Policy Forum 2104, at Hyatt Regency Hotel, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. She dismissed claims from Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley that the programme was an election campaign ploy.
Alleyne-Toppin also said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will be outlining the details of the Rise Up programme during her contribution in Parliament, on Monday.
Asked about Rowley’s claims, Alleyne-Toppin said: “It (the sum) was in the budget for 2013. The ministry got $3.4 billion in the budget to take care of persons’ pensions and social welfare. Before it was Step Up with Dr Amery Browne (former minister of social development). We augmented it and enhanced it. It has nothing to do with election. It was there before we came into office in 2010.”
She said there was a measure of funding from OAS. She also said the Rise Up programme had been adopted in other Caribbean countries including Barbados, St Lucia and Jamaica and assumed different names.
“The PM will be responding on Monday in Parliament on Monday. We have laid that document,” she said.
The TTCard was intended to provide food support to vulnerable households for a period of two years. During the two years, families will be exposed to the “Rise Up” component of the programme which includes psychological support, life-skills training and employment opportunities.
On Monday, Rowley made a call for the Integrity Commission to investigate Persad-Bissessar’s use of Government’s TTCard (food card) as a political tool on the cusp of the next general election. The Integrity Commission is led by chairman Ken Gordon.
He also said the relief programme which operates on public funds, renamed “Rise Up” was close to a moniker that echoes the People’s Partnership 2010 General Election slogan of “We Will Rise”.
To support his claim, Rowley had produced copies of a Cabinet note dated January 24, 2014, headed “The Extension of the Targeted Conditional Cash Transfer Programme and the contract positions, therein, the full rebranding and implementation of the RISE UP Conditional Co-responsibility of the Programme (Rights of Individuals to Social and Economic Security-Universal Prosperity”.
Asked about poverty which was supposed to have declined by two per cent, she said: “It has been happening.”
Among the ministry’s poverty reduction initiatives were the Micro Enterprise and Training Grant, Old Age Pension, Public Assistance, Disability Assistance and its flagship TT Card.