PETALING JAYA: While the authorities try to deal with a new and higher definition of poverty, an elderly woman with two disabled children has been tripped up by regulations and red tape and left to fend for herself on RM400 a month.
And even that might go.
The woman, who has hearing problems, had been receiving welfare aid since 2008 – but lost it after her daughter got a job as a waitress, earning RM1,100 a month. Then the job was lost as well, because of the Covid-19 shutdown.
Now they live on the RM400 a month which her daughter receives in welfare aid for disabled persons, because she has learning difficulties but fear that amount might be reduced because as a jobless person she doesn’t qualify for a higher allowance.
Speaking to FMT, Madam Tan (not her real name) said a neighbour had emailed the Social Welfare Department on her behalf, and was told that her file had been closed and she has to submit a new application for a different aid scheme.
That requires the signature of a village chairman, and without means of transport she has difficulty in having the application completed. Besides her hearing problem, she also does not speak Malay or English, and has difficulty communicating with department officers.
FMT is awaiting a response from the welfare department.
Tan said her daughter’s salary of RM1,100 a month raised the family’s household income beyond the threshold of RM980, the household income level used to define the poverty level.
In March, she received a letter informing her she was no longer eligible for the Senior Citizens Aid.
Four months later, the Statistics Department announced that the poverty line had been raised from RM980 monthly household income to RM2,208, thus placing more than 400,000 households below the poverty line.
Last week, MPs were told that federal agencies and state governments had been given five months to review their poverty eradication policies in the light of the country’s new poverty line, and to identify the target groups for their programmes.
But Tan and her daughter now live on only RM400 a month from her disability aid.
Her daughter has been out of work since the movement control order came into force on March 18.
“At the start of the MCO, I was told not to turn up. But even after things relaxed, my employer said there was so little business that I did not have to report for work. I have not received a salary since the MCO,” Tan’s daughter said.
Tan is filled with dread. “If my daughter is not called back to work, she will be considered unemployed, and we will have less money” as the amount of aid would be reduced.
Apart from her hearing, Tan has a rare chronic blood disorder and other medical problems, for which she needs medicines. Seeking treatment is difficult. Tan said she has been “scolded” for requesting to see Chinese-speaking doctors.
She has a son who is autistic. He has lived at a church-run institution since 2015. The fees cost RM900 a month, paid through contributions from other family members.
Because of their financial problems, Tan said she has had to make do. She limits the use of her hearing aid so that the batteries last longer, and cuts down on meals.
“We used to eat leftovers from my daughter’s workplace, but since the MCO we have cooked our own meals, normally rice, vegetables and eggs, barely enough for three daily meals. Fruit is a luxury. To save money, I share an apple with my daughter,” she said.
“Once in a while we buy chicken and make it stretch over a few days. We don’t buy pork or fish, it is too expensive. Everything is expensive.”