Acknowledging that the government does not yet know the extent of the impact COVID-19 will have on the economy, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest yesterday announced new measures to help Bahamians with the fallout.
“Our original economic estimates for the fallout from COVID-19 projected $1 billion in losses in our worst-case scenario,” Turnquest said in the House of Assembly.
“Unfortunately, because of the complete shutdown of the tourism industry, the financial impact on the economy may end up being much more dire than this scenario, if the threat of COVID-19 persists over the medium term.
“There is no doubt about it; there are going to be very challenging days ahead for all of us.
“Based on the changing dynamics, we are working to revise our fiscal forecasts and to do so as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.”
Those new measures include a Tax Credit and Tax Deferral Employment Retention Programme, which will provide businesses with payroll support in an effort to retain employees, as well as an expanded unemployment assistance program.
Initially, the government announced its intention to provide assistance to self-employed Bahamians in the tourism sector.
Turnquest said over 1,600 people have already applied for the self-employed assistance program.
Noting that the 24-hour curfew and the shutdown of non-essential businesses have impacted many who work for themselves, Turnquest said this assistance will now be extended to all self-employed Bahamians.
The National Insurance Board (NIB) estimates 7,000 people meet the criteria to receive the assistance.
Those who meet the criteria will be paid $200 per week for the duration of the emergency order, which will last until, at least, April 8.
The government has allocated $5.5 million for the program.
Self-employed people outside the tourism sector must have a valid business license, have no additional employees, an NIB card or government ID with an NIB number, proof of income for January or February 2020 and register as self-employed with NIB.
Last week, NIB launched an employment assistance program for those self-employed in the tourism sector.
They are covered for $200 per week for eight weeks.
The government is also allocating nearly $2 million, specifically, to support the Family Islands for any expenditure related to COVID-19.
“The new allocation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to reprioritize existing resources and to provide the necessary support to keep communities safe,” the finance minister said.
“The allocations for the different islands range from $10,000 to $325,000. The average allocation is approximately $76,000.”
Turnquest said while things appear grim now, he is certain the economy will recover.
“Have no doubt, the Bahamian economy will bounce back, and when it does, we want no one to be left behind,” he said.
“We want no one to succumb to the most severe effects of COVID-19. We want everyone to be able to rise together. The policy measures we have put in place, so far, are supporting Bahamians in this spirit. And we will adjust and adapt our response as the situation demands.
“Through God’s grace, when the veil lifts and people return to the normalcy of their lives, we shall recover all that has been lost.”