Family island MPs say plans in place to assist most vulnerable during COVID-19 crisis

Insufficient healthcare resources and reliance on mailboats for access to some basic necessities, as well as a significant elderly population, make some family island communities particularly vulnerable, as The Bahamas deals with the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Some members of Parliament say they are doing what they can to help their at-risk constituents.

Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes said that with the 24-hour curfew, and a complete lockdown that can last days at a time, some of the poor and elderly in communities may struggle with securing sufficient supplies to last them.

“The people who have government jobs and have a couple of dollars, they’ll go in the store and buy 10 [tins of] tuna, 10 of corned beef, and then the other person who is living hand to mouth, he can only buy one,” Forbes said.

“And then when he goes back tomorrow, everything is gone.”

Forbes said that while he is trying to help some constituents, he can’t afford to do it for everyone.

“I’m not a man of means…I’m just a hometown boy,” he said.

He added, “But I am working on something privately right now with a former ministerial colleague of mine and also someone from the governing side. And I was very glad to hear from Minister [of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael] Pintard that the government is going to be offering some assistance in areas such as mine that are very challenged — my area, MICAL, Long Island, Cat Island and areas such as that — in the very near future.

“And that was very encouraging because my people have been on me.

“[T]here are quite a bit of people in my area who need help today. You don’t want to talk everything, because once you do that, it creates a bit of tension because you can’t do it for everybody, but that is an urgent need, especially in the Family Islands.

“The main concern is food.”

North Andros and Berry Islands MP Carlton Bowleg said there are no major concerns in his constituency.

He assured that those who require assistance will be taken care of, and said he has always prioritized the most vulnerable in his constituency, but did not speak to any specific initiatives being undertaken in light of COVID-19.

“A concern with me coming into office was senior citizens and disabled and the kids,” he said.

“And that has been going on from I came in – where I’ve taken the initiative in doing whatever it was that needed to be done.

“So, this is nothing new; I will continue to do and have my input into whatever it is as far as they’re concerned. And for the neediest people who are in my constituency, there are plans in place to make sure that those people are taken care of.

“But, I do encourage them [to] take advantage at this time of the government assistance that they’re giving out through national insurance and social services. These are very good benefits that are there. It can help with families.”

Long Island MP Adrian Gibson said he is organizing care packages as well as free counseling sessions for his constituents.

“So, what I’ve done along with my team is devised various social assistance strategies that we could employ to assist my constituents,” Gibson said.

“So, one of the first things in recognizing the stress of this very unusual environment we are in, is I embarked upon establishing free COVID-19 counseling sessions. I engaged Dr. Barrington Brennen, who is a psychologist, to provide counseling to those persons in my constituency who might be finding it difficult to cope, every Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. beginning this Tuesday.”

Gibson said packages containing hygiene and health products, including vapor rub, hand sanitizer, Dettol, and medications, will be sent this week on the mailboat for constituents. Next week, he said, packages containing groceries will be sent for the elderly, the indigent and those who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

MICAL MP Miriam Emmanuel said she set up committees in each of the islands that make up her constituency to assist the unemployed as well as senior citizens.

She said the committees will complete their work by the end of this week.

“I have reached out to these committees to go throughout the communities of each of the islands and bring their findings back to me,” Emmanuel said.

“And so, what they brought to me so far, I approve of it because it was the same area I was looking at, especially during COVID-19, where it’s the senior citizens, the unemployed and even the business persons who are feeling the effects.

“But I know the government has plans to assist the residents and the business persons in these various islands.”

Emmanuel said once the committees complete their work, she will know which specific initiatives should be launched.

“It will be food items and to assist also with, perhaps, rental expense, and also to make sure that business owners are able to start their business again,” she said.

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