ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Government will be instituting a $250 capped subsidy on utility bills for pensioners, starting December 1.
President of the Pensioners’ Association Charles “Eddie” Hunte is intrinsically in favour of the utility assistance for senior citizens and pensioners as announced by Minister of Finance Harold Lovell, but he said, “That is a start from what we have asking for from the past.
“However, what we are asking for is that at age 65 years, pensioners should be given a 50 per cent discount on their total utility bills and at 70 years 100 per cent discount. What obtains presently is that you have to be 80 years and living alone to get 100 per cent relief from electricity and water.”
The minister expects the number of people to be covered to be around 500.
Lovell says that this cap was discussed with Hunte and with Sheila Roseau from the Gender Affairs Department.
Hunte said he agrees that this would be welcomed by his members, since “the level of utility bills is a bit onerous for pensioners and senior citizens.”
Hunte’s membership stands at around 300 active, paid-up members.
The head of the pensioners’ association believes that this move is an attempt to consolidate programmes such as the PDV Caribe Senior Citizens Utility Subsidy, which gives $100 monthly vouchers to seniors to pay APUA bills, and the discount programme for seniors who pay their bills early.
In the past, there were concerns that the programme should be limited to seniors living alone in order to keep potential abuse at a minimum.
However, Hunte felt that was impractical because of the basic needs of the elderly.
“Senior citizens often can’t live without some assistance,” he pointed out.
He has suggested a way to limit abuse by having APUA set a quota or upper limit on the amount of electricity going into a household where pensioners on subsidy live.
“If someone might be unreasonable and permit friends or relatives to attach an industrial machine, like an arc welding machine there, whatever their breakthrough (on the quota), they would pay for the extra at a commercial rate.”