Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, Omar Ottley met with St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) Director, Ms. Makhicia Brooks to gain insight into the application process, as well as the approval criteria and grounds for denial of applications, especially those related to the seniors.
The Minister took note of the complaints coming in from seniors claiming they were being denied assistance and he shared these concerns with Ms. Brooks. In light of the Minister’s concerns, Ms. Brooks mentioned that SMDF has created a special option for seniors with a valid Sint Maarten issued identification, to have their applications reviewed manually and evaluate their circumstances. Seniors who were denied and would like their application reviewed can contact SMDF directly at telephone number + 1 (721) 554-3219.
Ms. Brooks explained the application process to the Minister and stated that if the “senior” resides within a household that surpasses the total household income threshold, the system would automatically deny the application. She informed Minister Ottley that SMDF has approximately 13,700 persons
registered for the program, of which 1,218 persons are above the age of 65.
The seniors are categorized in two groups: Category 1; are elderly persons who applied independently and Category 2: are elderly persons who applied as part of other households.
The Director of SMDF also shed light on why persons were receiving WhatsApp messages from a number in the Netherlands informing them that they were denied. Ms. Brooks explained that to keep cost low they use WhatsApp to communicate with applicants/recipients. She stated that they used numbers from the Netherlands in order to be able to send out mass messages, as the platform used to send out mass messages does not recognize the 721 number. SMDF sends out messages in batches of up to 7000 messages at once and when persons receive these messages is dependent on the processing times, as they are automated messages.
Ms. Brooks clarified that the vast majority of applicants were approved and denials are based on the household income threshold, the fact that the applicants information could not be verified or that the applicant’s information was used in more than one application. The Minister was enlightened to learn that 75% of the applicants submitted valid Sint Maarten issued identification.
SMDF’s director indicated that at present they have a total of 4,700 households registered for assistance, which surpasses the amount of households that was registered under the previous program (Red Cross 4,500) and that the foundation will be able
to assist approximately 300 more households before the application process closes.