By Elias Hazou
THE GOVERNMENT’S amendments to the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) law, relaxing some of the eligibility criteria, are a step in the right direction but do not go far enough, most of the parties said on Monday.
The changes will burden the GMI scheme by an additional €10.9m a year, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou told MPs.
Under the amendments, 988 persons with moderate mental handicap – but not persons with mild mental handicap – become eligible for disability allowance.
Physically or mentally disabled persons will no longer need a court order to declare them as incapacitated in order for a representative to file an application on their behalf.
Persons aged up to 28, who were under the care of the director of the welfare office can now also apply for GMI.
And a new category has been added for people facing particular circumstances, to be verified by welfare officers. For example, a mother who is neither a Cypriot nor a EU national but who has children from a Cypriot father, would now be eligible.
Also, if an applicant’s spouse resides in a shelter, the allowance for the shelter will not be counted in calculating the applicable GMI.
Adjustments have been made so that persons whose applications have yet to be processed, or have been rejected, do not need to re-apply from scratch, but file an appeal.
Until now, in theory, a person was eligible for GMI if they had no more than €5,000 in cash or owned property worth more than €100,000 – excluding the primary residence.
Those conditions have been eased somewhat. Under the new rules, a person may have up to €20,000 in a bank and still qualify, provided however that this amount is blocked to secure a loan, is deposited in the name of a minor, relates to a scholarship or a college loan, or belongs to a disabled person.
Moreover, the €100,000 threshold for property is waived for cases where the entire property or part of it cannot be transferred or sold due to encumbrances on it.
Previously, a couple were eligible for GMI, if they owned a primary residence of up to 150 square metres, whereas a family could apply if they owned a house of up to 300 square metres. Now, anyone with a house of up to 300 square metres can apply.
Another change sees a 20 per cent increase in the rent benefit to disabled persons, where the rent being paid is above the maximum provided in the legislation.
AKEL MP Andreas Fakondis said the government amendments feature some positive elements, but could have gone further.
The changes still do not cover the large numbers of long-term unemployed, he added.
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to the House labour committee, the Cyprus Paraplegic Organisation (CPO) asked for additional assistance for persons with severe motor disabilities.
One of their demands concerns raising the €20,000 deposit eligibility threshold for the wheelchair-bound, as well as a higher rent allowance, due to these persons’ higher cost of living.
The GMI amendments will be voted on at the plenum this Thursday.