Monday, March 30, 2009

Help for the needy


More people will qualify for welfare aid under the Government’s Social Safety Net programme.

DURING an economic downturn, everyone feels the pinch, more so the poor or those living below the poverty line income.

According to the Economic Planning Unit, 16.5% of the Malaysian population lived in poverty in 1990. Twelve years later, in 2002, the rate dropped to 5.1% and last year, the poverty rate stood at 1.8%.

However, the actual number of poor people could well be higher, considering the high cost of living in urban areas and the current economic crisis.

A group of disabled people displaying their JKSM cards which act like identity cards, proof that the cardholder is on the social aid scheme.

One government mechanism that provides social support to the poor and needy is the Malaysia Social Safety Net or Jaringan Keselamatan Sosial Malaysia (JKSM) programme.

It involves various ministries and government agencies, including the Ministries of Health, Education, Housing and Local Government, Human Resources, Agriculture and Agrobased Industry, Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development, Rural and Regional Development, and, Women, Family and Community Development.

The social support given comes in various forms which include financial aid; food, fertiliser and fuel subsidies; free education, textbooks and uniforms; affordable hospital care and skills training.

Last year, a total of RM350mil was allocated to the Social Safety Net programme. This year, the amount has been raised to RM850mil.

Senior citizens above the age of 60 who are ill, not able to work and living in poor conditions are also eligible for the Government’s social welfare aid.

An important aspect of this social support is the Federal Welfare Aid given via the Social Welfare Department under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

“My ministry is only one part of this whole scheme and we are very focused on the so-called non-productive groups. They include senior citizens aged above 60 who are ill, not able to work and living in poor conditions, children aged below 18 from poor family backgrounds, and the disabled.

“We are involved in giving basic financial support to such groups,” said Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen.

On Feb 25, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi together with Dr Ng launched a revised Malaysia Social Safety Net programme and a new Social Safety Net Card (Kad JKSM).

Under this Safety Net programme, more people will qualify for welfare aid.

The new Malaysia Social Safety Net Card or Kad Jaringan Keselamatan Sosial Malaysia (JKSM) under the Social Welfare Department of Malaysia.

In previous years, welfare aid was given to the hardcore poor who, according to the Economic Planning Unit, are those with a household income of less than RM430 in Peninsular Malaysia, RM520 in Sarawak and RM540 in Sabah.

This year, the Ministry is extending aid to those with a household income of less than RM720 in Peninsular Malaysia, RM830 in Sarawak and RM960 in Sabah, or those living below the average poverty line income.

“From this year, we are extending the social safety net. This means that the number of people eligible for aid will double,” said Dr Ng.

“Last year, 150,000 people from about 50,000 families qualified for aid. This year, we expect at least 110,000 families to benefit.”

Dr Ng stressed that the poverty line income only serves as a guide or the initial entry point for eligibility of aid. Final approval will depend on investigations by welfare officers who will look into factors like the living condition of the families, the number of children and dependants, age of applicant or head of household, physical disability, and health conditions due to disease or illness.

This year, those who qualify for aid will also receive the new Kad JKSM, an electronic chip card which replaces the manila cards that people on welfare have been using since Independence.

“The card represents a new system of delivery to recognise eligible recipients. It is also (a tool) to create awareness about the welfare aid as we are determined to provide aid to those who are truly in need,” said Dr Ng.

“The card is like an identity card to prove that the cardholder is on the JKSM scheme. Later, we hope to link the card to public transportation systems and even outlets with special benefits for these groups of people.”

Each JKSM card is valid for a year and has to be reviewed annually.

“We do not want the poor to remain poor forever. We also want them to move out of poverty.”

To reach out to people in need of aid, the Social Welfare Depart­ment launched Projek Cari last October.

Under the project, 850 temporary welfare officers were hired for six months from October to go down to the ground and identify, register, investigate and speed up applications for the welfare scheme. These officers work in tandem with the existing 7,000 welfare officers in the country.

From Oct 1 to Jan 31, 70,000 new cases were identified, of which 25,000 have so far been approved. About 7,500 people did not qualify or pulled out, while the rest are still under investigation.

Projek Cari has proven its effectiveness. The aim of the project is to reach out to as many people as possible and to create awareness. It is ongoing until March 31, after which we will review it and see if we need to extend it,” said Dr Ng.

She hopes local leaders will help identify those in need and bring them to the department’s attention.

“I want to strengthen the whole welfare delivery system in Malaysia from the context of entry point, human resource and also the JKSM card as we move towards 2020,” she said.

Aid list

THE Federal Welfare Aid scheme under the Social Welfare Department offers:

> A general monthly allowance of RM80 per person, up to a maximum of RM350 per family, subject to a household income of below RM720 for Peninsular Malaysia, RM830 for Sarawak and RM960 for Sabah.

> RM300 a month for poor senior citizens aged above 60, subject to a household income of below RM720 for Peninsular Malaysia, RM830 for Sarawak and RM960 for Sabah.

> RM100 a month per child for families earning below RM720 in Peninsular Malaysia, RM830 in Sarawak and RM960 in Sabah. This aid is subject to a maximum of RM450 per family.

> RM300 supplementary work allowance a month for a disabled person who is working and earning below RM1,200 a month.

> RM300 a month for a non-working caregiver who looks after a debilitated/bedridden person at home. This is provided the family income is less than RM3,000 a month.

> From January this year, RM150 a month will also be given to a disabled person who is unemployed despite efforts to find a job.

To apply for welfare aid and the JKSM card, go to your nearest Social Welfare office or call the Ministry’s Talian Nur hotline at 15999.

Sources: The Star

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stop the abuse of bays meant for disabled

Stop the abuse of bays meant for disabled

JUST the other day, I was at one of the biggest shopping malls in Klang. It was a crowded Sunday and also the last day of the school break.

What amazed me was that as I was walking in to catch a movie, I noticed that many cars were parked at lots reserved for the disabled.

And all these cars had no stickers indicating the owners were disabled.

I even noticed a man coming out from his car at a disabled person’s parking lot and coolly walking inside the mall.

He was not handicapped and he had a Polis Diraja Malaysia sticker and a Parliament sticker on his car. Also, he was wearing a T-shirt of a local telecommunications company which was having a promotion at the mall.

I’m very disappointed that the mall’s management did nothing to stop this from happening.

The Klang Municipal Council (MPK) should provide stickers for disabled people to stick on their cars and the regulations should be strictly enforced. Malls should clamp cars without such stickers but parked at a disabled person’s lot and those who defy such regulations in town areas should be issued with summonses.



Sources: The Star

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Looking for toilets


The search for a model disabled-friendly rest room yielded some interesting results.

I WAS involved in an unusual assignment a week ago. Together with another gentleman in a wheelchair, and accompanied by a team of experts from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), our motley crew went out as “roving investigators” in Petaling Jaya.

We went to look at, of all things, toilets. And we were only interested in loos that were user-friendly for disabled and elderly individuals.

The purpose of our trip was to come up with a good prototype design of a restroom that would be user-friendly for the handicapped.

Our first stop was a well-known hotel. We oohed and aahed at most of the outfit’s disabled-friendly designs. The most impressive was the entry/exit door of the loo, which was an electronic one.

All a patron in a wheelchair needed to do was press a button with one finger and presto: it would open for him. Once inside, he has only to push another button. The door closes, offering him all the privacy he needs.

If only all other hotels in the country would follow the good example of the hotel we visited and provide electronic doors as well, it would make the lives of disabled and elderly persons much easier when they visit such outfits.

Even though posh hotels may have disabled-friendly loos, little attention is given to the doors. The doors are often so heavy that we have a hard time trying to open them.

Not everything was smooth-sailing during our assignment. Together with the good came the not-so-good.

We had a lesson on how important it was to train everyone to handle an emergency.

When we tried to get into the loo for the first time, it suddenly got locked and refused to open until 20 minutes later. None of the staff knew how to open the door.

They claimed the person in charge was not around. Fortunately, this was not a real emergency. We dreaded to think of what could have happened if a disabled person had fallen inside the loo and needed help.

It was disappointing too that the five-star hotel had a steep ramp at its entrance which disabled guests were forced to use to access the building.

The reserved parking lot for the disabled was located far from the entrance to the building.

The management promised to rectify the situation soonest possible.

Our journey also took us to Ikea and Ikano shopping centres in Mutiara Damansara.

No sooner had we arrived when we were greeted by smiling security guards at the generously-sized parking lots for the disabled. These people are so serious about their car parks for the handicapped that they clamp any unauthorised cars and make them pay a fine for abusing the facilities.

The money collected is donated to a local charity for the disabled.

I was shocked to hear about the reactions of some people who misuse the disabled parking bays. One or two of them even resorted to violence when their cars were clamped, I was told.

The majority, however, were apologetic when they realised the error of their ways.

As for the toilets, especially Ikea’s, I think they have close to the perfect one I’ve seen so far.

The toilet is spacious enough for a helper to accompany a disabled person. There’s an alarm bell (panic button) in case of an emergency and even a face mirror that leans slightly downwards from a strategic height to allow a wheelchair-user to view his upper body.

We were all touched by the willingness of these two shopping centres to improve on what they were providing for shoppers

Sources: The Star