An elderly welfare recipient has complained that the relief measures handed out to the needy by Financial Secretary John Tsang in the last few years have turned out be a double-edged sword.
The man, who is 71 years in age, said he was recently bumped out of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme as he had saved the supplementary payments that he received from the government, Ming Pao Daily News reported.
Tsang had distributed additional payments worth up to two or three months of CSSA recipients’ monthly subsidies over the past few years.
The elderly man, who bears the surname Wong, said his problems arose as he opted to park all the supplementary payments in his bank account, hoping to use the money at a later date for medical bills and funeral services fees.
But he received a shock as the Social Welfare Department (SWD) informed him that his monthly CSSA subsidy will be suspended as his personal assets have exceeded the HK$43,500 limit by around HK$16,500, in an asset assessment exercise done in October.
The reason why the assets exceeded the limit was because the man had saved up all the supplementary payments he received.
Wong lives on his own at a public housing flat in Kwai Tsing district, and has been getting the monthly CSSA subsidy since 2000. He was hospitalized for ten days in September after suffering from a stroke, and he has a history of Cataract and prostate stones.
Now he is in trouble as he has been taken out of the list of people eligible for CSSA payments.
Lee Tai-shing, organizer of a welfare group for low-income people, said many elderly CSSA recipients have saved up in order to pay for their own funeral services or to support their spouses once they pass away.
Some, meanwhile, have been saving up for potential hospital bills.
Lee called on the government to review its welfare policies for the aged, and quickly come up with a retirement protection plan that would offer the seniors a sense of security and dignity.
Kwai Tsing District Councilor Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he was told by an SWD staffer that the authority will determine how much Wong has to return to the SWD after collecting all of Wong’s bank statements.
The money to be owed by Wong can be paid back to the SWD in installments. If needed, Wong can apply for the Old Age Living Allowance, the SWD officer was quoted as saying.
Wan blasted the government for its inflexible policies and suggested that the income from one-off relief measures in each year’s budget be excluded in the asset assessment for CSSA recipients.
The SWD confirmed that Wong’s subsidy has been suspended. It pointed out that income from the budget’s relief measures will not be counted towards subsidy recipients’ total assets for a period of 12 months, but beyond that period the relief won’t be applicable.
Wong’s case is rather rare, legislator Peter Cheung Kwok-che said, urging the SWD to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.
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