Crèches demand unpaid Covid relief funds

A year after applications for the relief funds opened, many Early Childhood Development centres are yet to be paid

By Mary-Anne Gontsana

17 February 2022

Early childhood development educators are demanding that the Department of Social Development pay stimulus relief funds to qualifying centres immediately. Archive photo: Nokulunga Majola

The looming end to the financial year has many Early Childhood Development (ECD) educators in the Western Cape worried they won’t receive Covid relief money earmarked for them a year ago.

Early last year the government announced a grant to assist centres with the impact of the pandemic.

According to a statement by the Western Cape DSD, R53 million was earmarked for ECD centres in the Western Cape. Each staff member is to be paid R4,470.

Many in the ECD sector have complained that the online application process “was a nightmare”. And months after applying, many centres are still waiting for feedback from the department on their payouts.

The Centre for Early Childhood Development and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) said if there was no response to requests by the end of the week they would take the national and provincial departments of Social Development to court to compel them to acknowledge that payment is due and to commit to a date for payment.

Yusrah Ehrenreich, of the Centre for Early Childhood Development, said that despite numerous attempts no answers had been provided.

“The ECD worker applicant count in the Western Cape is 12,991. A Western Cape department press release on 9 February 2022 stated that 5,679 staff members have been paid so far. Assuming all ECD centre staff have been verified, 7,312 ECD workers are yet to be paid in the Western Cape,” she said. They expect a total of R30 million still to be paid in the province.

The national department says payment delays are the result of problems verifying important documents like the centres’ banking details. The provincial social development department says the delays are the result of the failure by the national department to implement a better system to verify the details of applicants.

MEC Sharna Fernandez said the national department recently decided to shift the responsibility of verifying ECD centres’ details and payments to the province. “We are in the process of finding an appropriate non-profit organisation partner to assist with the verification and processing of the payments of those eligible ECD centres yet to receive funding,” said Fernandez.

Gerard’s ECD Centre in Strandfontein is among those battling through the department’s verification process. Owner Colleen Horswell-Daniels said she had been getting a few of the same SMSs since 15 October, asking her to send bank statements. “I must have verified my bank statements with them six times by now, nationally and provincially.”

“We’ve been waiting so long for these funds. Some of us have lost our jobs and our houses due to unemployment,” said Horswell-Daniels.

National department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said proper verification is necessary for the distribution of public funds. Oliphant said the department had found that more than 3,500 beneficiaries on the list were deceased and some centres no longer existed. She said some bank accounts were incorrect or in the name of an individual rather than the centre and others were incomplete.