STATE MINISTER TURNER: Mr. Speaker,
I stand here today on behalf of the good people of the Montagu Constituency and wish to once again thank them for allowing me the privilege of serving in this Honourable House.
This piece of legislation the Good Samaritan (Food Donation) Bill 2010 is timely in that it seeks to encourage the donation of food to persons in need throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The main intention behind the Bill is to provide protection from any civil and criminal liability for donors and non-profit organizations who either collect and distribute food or receive and distribute food for the benefit of persons in need.
As you are aware, these are serious economic times and our citizens are challenged in meeting some of these basic human needs. Every day the Department of Social Services is crowded with individuals seeking food assistance. Government resources are limited, therefore, the assistance of persons/organizations that provide food donations is a tremendous help in ensuring that persons do not go hungry.
With respect to the direction of national development and the reformation of Bahamian society; these are matters which this government is committed to and our efforts are geared towards all of our people regardless of political affiliation, location, socio-economic standing or religious belief.
I would like to begin my contribution by focusing on the Department of Social Services and I wish firstly to commend all of the staff of the Department throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas, who continue to provide services above and beyond the call of duty to our people especially in this challenging economic times.
Since the beginning of the economic downturn there has been a steady rise in requests for all types of social assistance primarily in New Providence and Grand Bahama. Members would recall that it was in October 2008, when the Government introduced new levels of assistance in response to the economic downturn.
Food as we know is a basic human need and while persons facing economic hardship are forced to give up non-essential goods and services, food is a basic need that must be met. Consequently, the Food Assistance Programme operated by the Department of Social Services continues to be the programme that is in greatest demand.
The approved estimates for 2009-2010 allocated $4,535.560 for the food assistance programme. The allocation was intended primarily to fund the programme in New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama as the funds for food assistance for other islands is provided for under Family Island Operations.
In New Providence between July and December 2009, some 3,775 persons were receiving food assistance from the Department of Social Services, 2,722 persons were on the temporary food assistance programme and 1,052 persons were on the Permanent Food Assistance Programme.
The food coupon is issued to the head of household, but as we know most of our households consist of more than one person, so technically the numbers I just gave could be considered as the number of households receiving assistance. If in the case of the temporary food consider that each of these 2,722 households consist of three persons, this means that at least eight thousand persons are benefiting from the temporary programme alone.
With respect to emergency assistance, some 13,309 coupons were issued. These would have been issued to persons who did not require assistance on a prolonged basis, persons who were faced with an emergency situation that necessitated this form assistance.
While there would have been instances where an individual may have received more than one emergency coupon during the period, if we were to multiply the number by 2, members would appreciate the extent to which the programme is impacting the lives of our people.
We are all aware that Grand Bahama has been hit exceptionally hard by the economic downturn. As a result of the demand for food assistance in Grand Bahama, the Department has expended in excess of $200,000 per month for the programme between July and December 2009, with the lowest expenditure being $243,850 for July, 2009 and the highest expenditure being for December 2009, in the amount of $299,240. For the period July – December 2009, The Grand Bahama office of the Department of Social Services issued food coupons to the value of $1,596,470.
Given the continued high demand for food assistance, the Government allocated an additional two million dollars to the Food Assistance item during the mid-term budget review.
Again to ensure that the basic need for food is met, the National Lunch Programme continues to provide lunch each school day for hundreds of children throughout The Bahamas. In September 2009, the Centre for the Deaf was added to the programme bring the number of schools on the programme in New Providence to forty-four (44) which include the PACE Programme.
I wish to commend the Salvation Army which ensures that needy children at the School for the Blind are provided with lunch and The Lyford Cay Foundation for facilitating the programme at the Adelaide Primary School.
In Grand Bahama, the programme is in operation at twenty-one (21) facilities including the PACE Programme and Programme SURE. The programme is available in the Family Islands where it is operated in all but one exception by either approved lunch vendors assigned to schools or caterers engaged by the Department.
All of this has been accomplished through the Government’s enhanced social assistance programmes, but even against that back-drop we know that it is impossible to meet all needs and to sustain this level of assistance indefinitely.
To date, Hands for Hunger has reclaimed and redistributed more than 200,000 lbs of foods that would have otherwise gone to waste, that translates into 200.000 meals. There have been no complaints regarding any food redistributed through the programme.
All food, fresh produce, prepared food (which is packaged in aluminum pans for safe distribution) or no-perishable are redistributed to feeding programmes based upon the number of meals served, their ability to utilize the food type and the population they are serving.
Hands for Hunger takes a three pronged food safety approach with all food items.
1. Contracts between hands for Hunger and food donors outline their responsibility to maintain food safety standards they would otherwise follow.
2. All Hands for Hunger employees receive certified annual food safety training from the Ministry of Health.
3. All receiving agencies are also bound by contract to ensure that the staff is trained in the same food safety from the Ministry of Environmental Health, and have accurate storage and heating facilities on site for food items.
Without this legislation, tons of fresh, high quality food items will continue to be wasted everyday. Instead Mr. Speaker, this surplus food can be re-distributed to Bahamians who need it most. Similar bills have been adopted in other countries around the world (United States, Canada, France, Israel, and Australia).
This legislation is consistent with growing community sentiments within our country that calls strongly for innovative and practical action to solve social and environmental problems together. The legislation is necessary to increase confidence amongst food donors and thus, the amounts of food that can be successfully collected and redistributed to agencies.
Many food service establishments want to give but are afraid or unsure of doing so due to the legal uncertainty concerning food donations. The Bill will aid Hands for Hunger and other like organizations with procuring food donations from large corporations. It will also give assurance to those donors that they will not be held liable for any misfortune after food and drink have been given in good faith.
The amount of food available to support food programmes is limited. Social Services agencies that offer these critical feeding programmes are struggling to acquire enough food to meet this increasing demand amongst food-insecure Bahamians. Available Government Food
Assistance programmes provide support, but cannot comprehensively meet the increasing needs with the largest possible stipend distributed $220/month for households of 4 persons or more). Furthermore, following crisis situations, when the need for food is often greatest, such as the aftermath of devastating hurricanes, the supply of emergency food assistance is even more strained.
Collective community support in times of need or crisis requires the coordination of resources from all – Government, private and non-profit entities which would be facilitated by this legislation.