Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat suggested yesterday that it was not Trinidad and Tobago citizens but Venezuelan nationals who were lining up for food hampers at the Living Water Community.
He urged Opposition Senator Wade Mark to go to Living Water and check what language was being spoken by the persons in the lines. Mark, in the Senate sitting, had asked about the “severe hunger being experienced by many citizens”.
Responding to Mark’s urgent question, Rambharat said the Government had no data to substantiate the claim that there was “severe hunger” being experienced by many T&T citizens.
Asked by Mark why so many citizens were lining up outside Living Water Community and had to be turned away because there were insufficient hampers, Rambharat said: “To date, 278,000 persons have received support from the Ministry of Social Development. In fact, Madam President, I just came from the Namdevco Packing House in Piarco, where the Government is rolling out yet another initiative which involves a combination of a $250 supermarket voucher and a vegetable, meat and fruit package around the value of $250.
“Madam President, I would venture to say that perhaps my friend (Mark) is mistaken for the Venezuelans who have access to the services at Living Water Community and maybe are the ones who are turning up at Living Water. It is not a bottomless pit and maybe Living Water has had difficulties in replenishing. But I think that my friend should go to Living Water and listen very carefully to see if he is hearing English or Español (Spanish) and that may help him with his predicament. But 278,000 persons getting assistance over a short period, I think is a significant number.
“We recognise that this is a very difficult time for our citizens and for the country and the Government had put certain measures in place in the Ministry of Social Development and there was absolutely nothing to suggest that there was severe hunger.”
20,000 food cards to MPs
Rambharat cited the temporary food support of $510 per month for three months for families whose children received meals under the school feeding programme, but who do not have a permanent food card. He said 20,500 families will benefit from this initiative and, to expedite the measure, all 41 MPs were allocated 500 food cards. He said to date close to 20,000 cards had been received by MPs.
The minister said there was an additional food support top up to existing beneficiaries where households were receiving an additional $150 for a household of up to three persons, and an additional $300 for household over that number. He was going to say more about the ministry’s programme, but was curtailed by the limit in the time for a response to the question.
Persons much be a citizen or permanent resident living in Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for the Salary Relief Grant, House Rent assistance, food cards and other grants.
On Wednesday at Living Water a line, snaking down from the centre along Frederick Street, across Keate and Pembroke streets, of persons waiting for hampers, greeted staff when they arrived at 5.30 a.m. for work. LWC founder and director Rhonda Maingot stated that since COVID, the centre’s food bank had to open up to more and more people, but the need was greater than the supply. She said it broke her heart to have to turn people away. On Thursday, NLCB came to the rescue, giving $150,000 to LWC to purchase food supplies to distribute to those in need.
Waiting on laptops data
Meanwhile, in response to a question from UNC Senator Saddam Hosein, Rambharat said the Minister of Education was not in a position to indicate how many pupils are without laptops or devices and Internet access to facilitate online learning.
He said an instrument has been sent out to the principals, and the ministry was in the process of looking for the data. “When that data exercise is finished, the ministry would be in a position to say how many students require devices and how many don’t,” Rambharat said.
A question from Hosein on whether it was a wise decision to cancel all the laptops given by the previous administration so that pupils would have devices in circumstances such as these was not allowed by Senate President Christine Kangaloo.