R350 grant: Social development dept needs more money from Treasury to pay asylum seekers

  • The Department of Social Development says it must go to Treasury to ensure they are able to pay the R350 Covid-19 grant.
  • The department estimated R700 million would be required for Sassa to meet its constitutional obligations.
  • The inclusion of asylum seekers and permit holders in the grants have been welcomed.

The Department of Social Development says it has no other option but to turn to National Treasury to give effect to a High Court ruling compelling government to include asylum seekers and special permit holders in its Covid-19 relief grant.

This came after a rough estimate showed it would need R700 million to successfully pay out the R350 grant, which is part of government's emergency measures to provide some relief for people not receiving any form of assistance or income as the country battles the coronavirus.

In April, government budgeted R407 million for the Social Relief of Distress grant. Last week, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) said they approved 1.2 million of the 3.2 million applicants for the grant.

READ MORE | Sassa launches new Covid-19 relief grant programme

Last week, High Court Judge Selby Baqwa ruled that directions set out by the minister in this regard were unconstitutional and unlawful.

The department, which did not oppose the bid brought by the Scalabrini Centre which was represented by Norton Rose Fulbright, has five days to remedy the matter.

The NGO went to court to force government to include asylum seekers and those with special permits to be included in the grant.

READ HERE | Lockdown: Asylum seekers and special permit holders can now receive Covid-19 relief grant

"We will have to go back to Treasury to try and get more money for the order to be effected," the Department of Social Development's Lumka Oliphant said.

It is unclear whether Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has made provisions for this in the emergency budget to be delivered on Wednesday.

Mboweni has warned of deep cuts to the budget amid an economic bloodbath intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oliphant said it would work the same as how government is currently distributing the unemployment grants.

"They are still going to be subjected to the stringent criteria which is in place now determining whether you qualify or don't qualify for the grant," Oliphant said.

'There is no need for Afrophobia'

While the African Diaspora Forum has welcomed the news, it said the South African government has to learn to do things properly from the onset, as opposed to having its hands forced by the courts.

"This is the second time. First we had the spaza shops and now this. There is no need for Afrophobia in its approach to giving support," the forum's chairperson Dr Abdul Karim Elgoni told News24.

Government was forced to backtrack from its position in March that only spaza shops with municipal licences would be allowed to stay open during the lockdown, which would have meant thousands of foreign-owned spaza shops had to close their doors.

"If there is no money, there should be no money for everyone. It should not be handed out in a discriminatory manner," Elgoni said.

"It has signed international agreements that it would treat migrants fairly," he added.

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