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‘Brief pause/revamp’ for ‘Grocery Bag’/Food Assistance Program

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Posted: Friday, November 27, 2020. 3:59 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Two signature programs of the Dean Barrow administration are set to get a makeover under successor John Briceño.

This week, Minister of Human Development Dolores Balderamos Garcia told reporters that it has become necessary to ‘pause’ the Food Pantry and COVID-19 food assistance programs as her Ministry reviews how they can be revamped and expanded to reach more rural communities and otherwise modified, however slightly.

Minister Balderamos Garcia’s colleagues complained bitterly in Opposition that their constituents had to go cap-in-hand to UDP area representatives and even caretakers to beg to get on the programs. The Pantry/Grocery Bag involved receiving a set basket of goods valued at approximately $100 every two weeks for about $25, while the Food Assistance Program involved a slightly larger basket for persons affected by the COVID-19 pandemic who were not already getting assistance from other means or working.

With their wide mandate, said the Minister, “we have to assist the rural areas a little bit more because I think it was a little bit heavily Belize City. But now as you know the new government, there are three Belize rural constituencies that are represented by our administration now and I have to make sure that we try to divide up the little pie in the same way the Prime Minister had to divide up the pie of portfolios, we have to divide a limited pie. And it is not sustainable in the long run because we are talking about loan funding, but we will do our best to be as fair as we possibly can keeping in mind the political mandate. But we won’t be snatching away food from the people who continue to have the need. Just give us a little change to have our feet on the ground.” She added that she will be taking instruction from Cabinet on the issue.

The Pantry program is budgeted annually for a few years now although the FAP is funded by international loan funds.

The Minister added that she expects the programs to re-start well before the Christmas season even in these difficult times. People will still need to qualify, and the programs must be accountable to funders such as the World Bank and OPEC/OFID.

There is no word on other similar programs such as BOOST conditional cash transfer, the Unemployment Relief Program, and so on.

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