LCQ17: Special anti-pandemic allowance for residential care home staff
The Government launched in February this year the "special anti-pandemic allowance for residential care home staff" (the allowance) to disburse to eligible staff of residential care homes (RCHs) for the elderly or for persons with disabilities (collectively referred to as RCH staff) a monthly allowance of $2,000 per person for five months. However, some RCH staff have relayed that the eligibility criteria as set out in the application guidelines for the allowance which were issued by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) at the end of February were stringent, which included requiring RCH staff making the application to work at least 14 days a month, while those days on which they could not go to work due to their being infected and undergoing compulsory quarantine or isolation should not be counted as days of work. This made quite a number of RCH staff ineligible for applying for the allowance, thus causing dissatisfaction in the sector. SWD subsequently revised the guidelines in early March to allow counting the days of absence due to the aforesaid reasons as days of work, but the requirement for 14 days of work has remained unchanged. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of applications for the allowance received, approved and rejected, as well as the amount of allowance disbursed by SWD so far, and set out in a table the relevant total numbers/amount and the monthly figures; among the approved applications, the respective numbers of those the applicants of which (i) had met the eligibility criteria for application before the guidelines were revised and (ii) met the eligibility criteria for application only after the guidelines had been revised;
(2) of the reasons for rejecting the applications mentioned in (1), and whether SWD has put in place an appeal mechanism; if so, of the number of appeals received by SWD; whether SWD will exercise its discretion in handling those applications from full-time RCH staff who have been continuously employed by the same employer for four weeks or more and working for 18 hours or more per week (i.e. working under a "continuous contract"); and
(3) whether SWD will undertake that when it introduces similar measures in future, it will first initiate consultation with the sector, so as to avoid the aforesaid situation of having to revise the eligibility criteria?
My reply to the question raised by the Hon Lam So-wai is as follows:
(1) To recognise the tireless efforts of staff of residential care homes (RCHs) in taking care of residents of residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) and residential care homes for persons with disabilities (RCHDs), and in implementing extra anti-epidemic measures during the critical times of the fight against the epidemic, the Government disburses the Special Anti-pandemic Allowance for RCH Staff (Special Allowance) to all eligible RCHE and RCHD staff members. Between February 1 and June 30, 2022, each eligible staff member employed by an RCHE or RCHD who has attended duty or provided service to residents or service users of RCH for no less than 14 days during the month will receive from the Government through the RCH operators a special allowance of HK$2,000 per month for five months. There is no requirement on the number of RCHs attended or served by the staff during the month or the concerned working hours. If an individual staff member has been affected by the epidemic, e.g. due to infection of COVID-19 or compliance with a compulsory quarantine/isolation order, that he or she has been unable to attend duty or provide service at the RCH concerned, or has been arranged to work from home, then such affected period will also be counted as working days.
RCH operators may submit applications for the special allowance to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) on a monthly basis before July 7, 2022. As at May 25, 2022, the cumulative number of applications received, approved and the amount of allowance disbursed is tabulated below:
|Number of applications received (Number of staff members involved)||2 633 applications (37 109 persons)|
|Number of applications approved||1 483 applications|
|Amount of allowance disbursed||HK$180.84 million|
|Number of applications under processing||1 150 applications|
(2) The SWD issued letters to all RCHs in February and March 2022 respectively to notify them of the eligibility criteria of the special allowance and the related payment arrangements. As RCH operators need to confirm that the concerned staff members meet the eligibility criteria when they submit applications, the SWD does not get hold of information on staff members who are not eligible. Up to now, the SWD has approved all applications processed.
(3) The SWD will continue to maintain communication with the RCH sector and listen to their views in formulating various measures to fight against the epidemic.
Ends/Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:05
Issued at HKT 11:05