A portion of the payments owed to organizations contracted with the government to care for people with disabilities will be transferred in the coming days, officials said Monday, after an NGO last week announced it would be forced to shut down.
Sesobel, an NGO that runs therapeutic and educational programs for children with motor and intellectual disabilities, had announced in a statement to parents with children enrolled in its programs that it would close its doors on June 28 until further notice, after which the organization will review its financial situation to see whether it can receive students again.
Even as it remains open over the next few weeks, Sesobal will cease to operate on Mondays and receive children only Tuesday through Friday, the statement added. It will also no longer be able to offer the children daily meals.
The statement was circulated widely, and multiple political figures and activists called on the state to act and save the organization.
According to a tweet from the presidency, President Michel Aoun called Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil Monday, and the two agreed that Khalil’s ministry would pay “a portion” of the overdue funds.
In a series of tweets, Khalil said Sesobel and other NGOs providing services to people with special needs will receive payments in the coming days. He did not specify how much of the overdue funding will be paid, saying only that “the required funds will be secured according to the availability of liquidity.”
Khalil said payments have been delayed because the contracts between the organizations and the Social Affairs Ministry were signed at the end of 2018, while they should have been signed in January of that year.
Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumjian tweeted that no organization or care center contracted with the state would be forced to close, including Sesobel.
Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee also addressed the funding issue at a session Monday dedicated to discussing the draft 2019 state budget, committee head MP Ibrahim Kanaan said during a news conference afterward.
He said the committee had reiterated its request that a study be carried out to determine whether any social service organizations contracted with the state “are fake or politicized” so that their funding can be halted.
The Social Affairs Ministry does not run its own institutions to provide education, therapy or other services to people with special needs; instead, it contracts with NGOs to provide the services. But the government has run far behind on its payments. From the beginning of 2018 until February of this year, the organizations said they had not received any funds from the ministry.
Moussa Charafeddine, the president of the National Union on Intellectual Disabilities, previously told The Daily Star that the NGOs have been paid for the first half of 2018, but have not yet received payment for the second six months. Apart from that, the NGOs said the contract for 2019 has not yet been signed to ensure future payments, and that they were still being paid based on the 2011 cost of living index.
Step Together Executive Director Reem Mouawad said at the end of May that all of the organizations have been paying their staff half their salaries for the past two months. At least one facility – the Myriam Center in Hadath, which served about 100 clients with severe disabilities – has already closed. Others took out high-interest loans to meet their expenses.
The situation could be exacerbated by the austerity budget currently under consideration. The Social Affairs Ministry, which currently receives less than 1 percent of the national budget, has been threatened with further cuts.
At demonstrations held across the country last month, more than 100 NGOs contracted with the Lebanese government to care for people with disabilities threatened to go on strike or permanently close their doors if they did not get the funding owed to them.